Jeff Carter's NHL career has come full circle with the Los Angeles Kings center preparing to play his 1,000th NHL game.
The 34-year-old center will become the 341st player in League history to reach that milestone when the Kings host the Vegas Golden Knights at Staples Center on Saturday (4 p.m. ET; SNE, SNO, SNP, FS-W, NHL.TV).
"I'm extremely grateful to have the opportunity to play 1,000 [games]," he said Friday. "We talk about the injuries and stuff, you never know in this game what's going to happen. One quick little play could be it. Definitely grateful to be able to have hung around this long. Just fun. It's fun going out and playing, fun being around the guys."
Carter has seven points (five goals, two assists) in 19 games this season and is the Kings' third-oldest player, after 36-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk and Dustin Brown, who turned 35 on Nov. 4. He's playing the same mentor role for Los Angeles' younger players that veterans did for Carter when he was a 21-year-old rookie with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06.
"It was myself and [center] Mike [Richards] and everybody else was old," Carter said. "We had a really old team. Hitch [coach Ken Hitchcock] was there, and he wanted old guys. In a way that was good for me just to see how they handled things. We had [center Peter] Forsberg, [defenseman Derian] Hatcher, [center Keith] Primeau, [forward Simon] Gagne. We had some really good veteran players that showed us the right way to do things.
"I think early in my career, [I was] definitely lucky to be a young guy on an older team with a big veteran presence. Just kind of sit back and take it in."
Video: MIN@LAK: Carter calmly scores from in front
Carter was selected by the Flyers with the No. 11 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft and played six seasons in Philadelphia. He had NHL career highs of 46 goals and 84 points with the Flyers in 2008-09 and scored the game-winning goal against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Final to get Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup Final.
He was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets on June 23, 2011, and then traded to the Kings eight months later, on Feb. 23, 2012. He joined several familiar faces in Los Angeles, including Richards, who had been traded by Philadelphia to Los Angeles the same day Carter was traded to the Blue Jackets, and assistant John Stevens, who coached Carter in the American Hockey League and for four seasons with the Flyers.
Carter had 13 points (eight goals, five assists) for the Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs and scored two goals, including the game-winner, in the 6-1 Cup-clinching win in Game 6 against the New Jersey Devils.
"Going through it in Philly and not winning, you learn how hard it is to get there," Carter said. "There's that extra push you need collectively in the room to get over that hump. You get there and you come up short, that stings and it stings for a long time. I think for us in here when we did it, there was no part of our game that wasn't at its best. That's maybe the best way to put it. Everything was clicking, everybody was going, everybody knew what they had to do, everybody was prepared. When that happens, everyone's pulling the same direction, it's tough to stop."
The Kings won the Cup again in 2014, but that five-game Final win against the New York Rangers was the last time Los Angeles won a playoff series. After finishing last in the Western Conference last season, they're 7-11-1 this season.
Carter also has dealt with injuries, having surgery to repair a partially torn tendon in his left leg that limited him to 27 games in 2017-18, not to mention the general wear and tear that comes with playing 15 NHL seasons. He has 712 points (370 goals, 342 assists) in 999 regular-season games and 74 points (39 goals, 35 assists) in 120 playoff games. He also won a gold medal with Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and played in the NHL All-Star Game in 2009 and 2017.
Carter said he feels good physically now, mostly because he feels like he can skate again.
"Last year was tough," Carter said. "Nothing seemed to go right. Pretty much the whole year I wasn't very comfortable on my feet. This summer is when it started to turn for me, and thankfully it did, because now I actually feel … skating is a big part of my game, and when I feel comfortable out there and I'm skating, things open up for me. I'm glad that it's come back. … We did all the rehab and the workouts in the summer, in-season, coming back from injury. It's time. Some things take longer than others."
Carter, Kopitar, Brown, defensemen Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez, and goalie Jonathan Quick remain from the two championship teams, but now younger players are playing larger roles, among them 21-year-old center Blake Lizotte, 21-year-old forward Carl Grundstrom, 22-year-old forward Austin Wagner and 23-year-old forward Adrian Kempe.
"If the young guys are coming up with questions, you answer them," Carter said. "You try to be a good guy, talk. … Come in with a smile every day. It's a tough business, especially when things aren't going the way you'd like them to. But at the end of the day, you still have to come in with a smile on your face and go to work every day. It's hard some days, but I think if you can try and do that more days than not, good things happen."