Whether as a flashy rising star or as a battle-tested veteran, Jaromir Jagr has impressed NHL legend Mark Messier for more than a quarter century.
“When (Jagr) came into Pittsburgh he dazzled us with his power and his skill and his overall game,” said Messier. “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 on the NHL’s all-time points list, Messier reflected Thursday about the Czech superstar’s accomplishment in what has become increasingly a young man’s game.
Watch below: On Jan. 10, 2016, Sarah Kraus filed this report on a group of passionate Jaromir Jagr fans who brought their crested jerseys and mullets to Edmonton to show their support for the National Hockey League’s oldest player.
“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,” said Messier. “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.”
Messier, who passed Gordie Howe’s point total of 1,850 for second all-time in his final NHL season back in 2003-04, finished his career with 1,887 points. Jagr grabbed third place from Howe in March and sits at 1,883 points heading into Thursday’s game between his Florida Panthers and the Winnipeg Jets.
READ MORE: Gordie Howe’s career by the numbers
Wayne Gretzky’s all-time mark of 2,857 points isn’t going to be equalled by Jagr, or likely anyone else for that matter.
“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 1,659 times in North America.
“This is kind of anticlimactic for me in a way,” said Messier. “I understand the amount of time he put in overseas.
“In my own mind he surpassed me a long time ago.”
Jagr, who has six goals and nine assists this season, has mused about playing until the age of 50. Messier retired at 44 — the same 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,” said Messier. “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.”