TORONTO — Jaromir Jagr has impressed NHL great Mark Messier for more than a quarter of a century.
“When (Jagr) came into Pittsburgh he dazzled us with his power and his skill and his overall game,” Messier said. “Later on in his career he’s kind of inspired us with his passion and dedication. He’s played long enough to understand what the game means to him as a person and as a player.”
Poised to be overtaken by the 44-year-old Jagr for second place on the NHL points list, Messier reflected Thursday about the Czech star’s accomplishment in what has become increasingly a young man’s game.
“The only way you can play, and do what he’s doing right now, is to make sure you are putting in the time for your conditioning and taking care of yourself,” Messier said. “The game has to be the No. 1 priority in your life because it takes a lot time to prepare each and every game, let alone each and every season. You’ve got to give Jaromir a lot of credit for what he’s been able to do early in his career, and then maybe even more credit for how he’s been able to sustain himself.”
Jagr has six goals and 10 assists this season for the Florida Panthers.
Messier, who passed Gordie Howe’s point total of 1,850 for second place in his final NHL season back in 2003-04, finished with 1,887 points. Jagr grabbed third place from Howe in March and has 1,884 after assisting on a goal in Florida’s 4-3 shootout loss at Winnipeg on Thursday night. Wayne Gretzky holds the record with 2,857.
“I’m still the most surprised person that I have been sitting at No. 2 for this amount of time,” Messier said on conference call. “I didn’t really consider myself an elite scorer like a Mario Lemieux or a Wayne Gretzky. I never considered myself that kind of player. It was quite humbling for me to be passing some of those names on that Top 10 list. I actually couldn’t believe it.”
Jagr joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990 and won two Stanley Cups alongside Lemieux. He has gone onto play for seven more NHL franchises, but also spent three seasons in the KHL where he amassed 146 points.
Messier scored his 1,887 points in 1,756 NHL games, while Jagr has suited up 1,660 times in North America.
“This is kind of anticlimactic for me in a way,” Messier said. “I understand the amount of time he put in overseas. In my own mind he surpassed me a long time ago.”
Jagr has mused about playing until the age of 50. Messier retired at 44 — the same as Jagr is now — and said there’s no sign Jagr is slowing down.
“He’s still hustling to get the puck and retrieve the puck,” said Messier, who spent half a season as Jagr’s teammate with the New York Rangers. “He’s still covering a lot of ice when he’s out there. He’s still very powerful.
“His down-low game, his cycle game, I don’t know if there’s been anyone ever better. As a superstar you think of a dynamic, open-ice player that can beat you one-on-one. He does that ... (just) in smaller areas.”
Messier has occupied the top of the points list with Gretzky, his friend and teammate with the Edmonton Oilers, for more than a decade, but added there’s nothing bittersweet about Jagr’s inevitable move into second.
“To be anywhere in that top echelon of players is incredible,” Messier said. “I look at it as an opportunity for me to pass the baton on to Jaromir and hopefully now with the rest of the players to inspire the next generation.”