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Jagr celebrates birthday where NHL career started

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Jaromir Jagr celebrated his 41st birthday Friday in the city where his NHL career started, giving the Dallas Stars forward a chance to reflect on being drafted almost 23 years ago.

The Pittsburgh Penguins picked Jagr with the fifth choice of the 1990 NHL Draft, which was held at BC Place, across the street from where he will play against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday.

A lot has changed since then, including the building the Canucks play in, as well as five players who will play with and against him Friday who hadn't been born when Jagr was drafted.

Evidently Jagr's opinion of himself has changed too.

"Back then I never thought I am going to play NHL," he said. "I didn't think I am good enough to play NHL and I was wondering why the Pittsburgh Penguins draft me. I was very thin, not very strong."

Now 19 NHL seasons, 669 goals and 1,664 points later, the four teams that picked ahead of Pittsburgh in 1990 must wonder what they were thinking. That includes the Canucks, who used the second pick to select Petr Nedved.

Even now, in his first season with the Stars, Jagr leads Dallas in scoring with 11 points, a total that figures to improve as he develops more chemistry with Jamie Benn on the top line.

"It was different because it was a short training camp, we didn't have a chance to play at all and he [Benn] wasn't signed, he came a little bit late," said Jagr, who after a slow start with Benn has six points in their past five games together. "It took us five games but I think every game is getting better and better. It's all about the talking and to learn during the games because you don't have that many practices, and every time we have a practice, most of the time it's optional because the schedule is so tight and a lot of traveling days, especially for our team."

For Benn, who is from nearby Victoria but hadn't even celebrated his first birthday when Jagr was drafted, those talks are important.

"He plays a bit of a different game out there so it did take a couple games to get used to, but I think we have found it," said Benn, who has eight points in his past five games. "We talk a lot on and off the ice to get that chemistry. I'm just trying to learn from him and see how he plays the game. He definitely teaches me a few things."

As for longevity lessons, Jagr said it's about enjoying the game.

"If you like to work and don't get injured, no problem," Jagr said. "It's all about hard work and if you love the game it's easy to work at it."

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