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Jagr interested in Panthers return, may play at Worlds

by Michael Langr / NHL.com

Jaromir Jagr won't be hanging up his skates for the summer following the Florida Panthers' final two regular-season games against the Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils.

The 43-year-old forward has decided to join the Czech National Team at training camp for the IIHF World Championship in Prague this May, and if he sees his performance on the larger ice surface as sufficient, he will represent the Czech Republic.

Jagr told Czech Daily Sport he agreed with Czech coach Vladimir Ruzicka to join practices and play in exhibition games to see if he feels comfortable before making a final decision on playing in the World Championship.

"When the NHL season is over, I'll pack up as soon as possible and come back to the Czech Republic," Jagr told Daily Sport. "I'm gonna join the national team. But it doesn't automatically mean I'll play at the Worlds. I'll work at practices and see how it turns out."

Although Jagr isn't sure whether he would be an asset for the Czechs, the fans and coaching staff know they want to have him on the team.

"[Jagr] told me our team would have a lot of good players on the roster and he doesn't want to be in their way. But I said clearly to him that I'm the one who's building the team and that it all depends just on his decision. We as coaches are sure about him. We want him to play in Prague," Ruzicka told reporters Tuesday, the first day of camp.

The poll on the Czech website iDNES.cz shows the vast majority of fans wants to see Jagr wearing the national team jersey again: More than 10,000 fans voted the team would be much stronger with Jagr, with 1,500 saying the opposite.

"We agreed we'll sit and chat after he comes to Prague. But I'll definitely try to persuade him. I've seen his last games with the Panthers and he's been playing unbelievably well," Ruzicka said.

Jagr has flourished in Florida after a trade from New Jersey on Feb 26. He has five goals and 14 points in 18 games with the Panthers after scoring 11 goals and 29 points in 57 games with the Devils, going scoreless in eight games prior to the trade.

"I wasn't the one to choose, where I would [be traded]. But thank God for how it all turned out," Jagr told Daily Sport.

"I play with great young players with a great future. They play a different style that fits me well," he said. "It's fast hockey and even someone might say it's not good for me, I think it is. The practices are at the highest tempo, and when I'm on the ice during the games with those kids, I know each shift I have a chance to score. Sometimes I touch the puck just once and suddenly I'm open in front of the goal."

Jagr is not the only player older than 40 who Ruzicka wants to have on his roster for the Worlds. Former NHL forward Martin Rucinsky, 44, has reached the Czech Extraliga finals with his hometown team HC Verva Litvinov and is performing at a high level. He is fifth in scoring in the Czech league's playoffs with nine points in 10 games after finishing second in the regular season with 54 points in 51 games.

"I can easily imagine Jagr and Rucinsky playing in one line together," Ruzicka said. "If they are healthy, I definitely want to have both of them on the team. I don't want to sound like the one who favors older players. But I want to have the best ones available."

Jagr's mind has to reset after the NHL season and focus on a two-week top international tournament, but he is slowly starting to look beyond the Worlds. According to multiple sources, Jagr's agent Petr Svoboda has talked with Panthers general manager Dale Tallon about a new contract. In the interview with Daily Sport, Jagr said he wouldn't be against signing a two-year contract this time.

"It's still too soon to anticipate anything, but there is a pretty big chance we'll come to an agreement (with Florida). It depends on the club. If they want to sign me for one year, or for two years," said Jagr, who since returning to the NHL from the Kontinental Hockey League always said he wanted to sign for one season at a time. "I did, but let's see what happens now. It's too soon to say anything now."

If he signs and plays through a two-year contract, Jagr would stay in the NHL until he's 45 and would have a good chance to pass Gordie Howe and Mark Messier on the all-time scoring list. Jagr is fourth with 1,798 points; Howe has 1,850 and Messier 1,887. The Czech wing is fifth in goal scoring with 721, with Marcel Dionne (731) and Brett Hull (741) in his sights. He is 12th in games played with 1,548, and if he plays two more seasons, he could climb as high as fourth place, ahead of Mark Recchi (1,652), despite the three years spent in the KHL between 2008 and 2011.

Jagr has won Olympic gold at Nagano in 1998 and two World Championships (2005, 2010), and has represented his country in five Olympics, two World Cups and 118 games.

It was February 1998, after the Czech triumph in Nagano, when Jagr first said, "This might have been my last game for the national team."

He said the same thing after a semifinal loss to Canada at the 2004 World Cup in Toronto. And after the 2014 World Championship in Minsk, Belarus, he announced the end of his international career. But like another long-lasting Czech great, goaltender Dominik Hasek, used to do, he keeps coming back over and over again.

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