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Gaborik ready for grand celebration in 1,000th NHL game

Kings forward has been model of perseverance through 17 seasons in League

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

Marian Gaborik had already put his body through 989 NHL games over 16 seasons, and new Los Angeles Kings coach John Stevens needed to know if the 35-year-old forward recovering from knee surgery in April wanted to add any more.

"I remember one of the first guys I met with was [Gaborik] when I got hired, and we were in Manhattan Beach and he was on crutches," Stevens said of their meeting at a restaurant a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean.

"I said, 'I need to know: Do you still want to play?

"'Are you willing to put the work in to be healthy, and do you have the passion to pay a price to be a good player?'"

Gaborik answered yes to each question.

"I told him I wanted to come back from the injury and be a productive guy and help this team get to where it wants to be," Gaborik said.

"It was a long time before I started to play again. Quite frankly, I didn't expect it to be so long. I had a setback in training camp. I'm past that right now. I feel hungry again. I feel like I still have a lot to offer. I'm having fun again."

Video: MIN@STL: Gaborik, Kopitar combine to score on rush

Gaborik returned to the Kings lineup Nov. 24 at the Arizona Coyotes, and will become the 314th player in NHL history to play 1,000 games when the Kings visit the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports, MSG, FS-W, NHL.TV).

A relaxed and engaging Gaborik, in his 17th season in the League, is enjoying life with the Pacific Division-leading Kings (20-9-3), who have won eight of their past nine games.

"He's been effective for us and helped us win a couple games," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We're happy to have him back."

Gaborik has six points (four goals, two assists) in 10 games and hit the 400-goal and 800-point mark with two goals against one of his former teams, the Minnesota Wild, in a 5-2 win at Staples Center on Dec. 5. Gaborik, the No. 3 pick in the 2000 NHL Draft, spent eight seasons in Minnesota before signing as a free agent with the Rangers on July 1, 2009.

"It was a special night, for sure, with hopefully many more to come," Gaborik said about his big game against Minnesota.

He said playing his 1,000th game is "in the back of my mind obviously, but I'm trying not to focus on it until it really happens."

Video: MIN@LAK: Gaborik nets 400th goal off the faceoff

At his best, Gaborik gives the Kings more options and flexibility. It wasn't so long ago -- the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs -- when he scored a League-leading 14 postseason goals to help the Kings win their second Stanley Cup championship.

His teammates dubbed him "Ferrari," an ode to his love of the sports car.

Kings forward Trevor Lewis joked Ferrari has had "a couple of dings, maybe some tire changes, but nothing too serious."

Gaborik also missed the start of the 2016-17 season after he broke his foot playing for Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

There have been plenty of freakish injuries too. No sequence was unluckier than this one: With the Columbus Blue Jackets, Gaborik broke his collarbone on Dec. 21, 2013, in his first game back after missing 17 games with a sprained left knee.

"Even with all the injuries and being an older player, he's an extremely proud guy that really puts a big value on fitness and training," Stevens said. "He works as hard as anybody to make sure his body is ready to play and perform. That, and his desire and passion to play the game, are the reasons he's been able to get to 1,000 games."

Gaborik made his NHL debut for Minnesota on Oct. 6, 2000, at the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, about 30 miles away from the Kings' home arena, Staples Center. Gaborik scored in that game and is the only player left from that Minnesota team still playing in the NHL. He scored 42 goals for the Wild in 2007-08, and his NHL-high 86 points (42 goals, 44 points) came with the Rangers in 2009-10.

Gaborik will turn 36 on Feb. 14, but he doesn't dwell on his age.

"Times flies so fast -- it's unbelievable," he said. "Most of the time, I don't think about my age. I try to enjoy everything I can. Sometimes when I pinch myself, I still feel when I'm looking back, I'm like a young guy in this league. Sometimes I feel like time kind of stopped."

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