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Jagr can still play at high level, Bjugstad says

Panthers forward: Whichever NHL team signs 45-year-old free agent won't be disappointed

by Jessi Pierce / Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. -- Florida Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad didn't hesitate when asked about unrestricted free agent Jaromir Jagr. He says whichever NHL team signs Jagr to a contract will not be disappointed.

"I'm not sure what his future's looking like [in Florida], but if it's not with Florida I'm sure he'll find something," said Bjugstad, Jagr's teammate the past three seasons. "He's been playing really well. I think any team that brings him on will really benefit. He makes players around him better, myself included. I think [Aleksander] Barkov, [Jonathan] Huberdeau, those guys that played with him, they really skyrocketed.

"They're really good players and they became great players with him."

Bjugstad said he was brunt of plenty of jokes from the 45-year-old Jagr.

"He liked to have a good time with me and pick at me a little bit … call me 'Bjugy' in a really weird voice," Bjugstad said. "I obviously took it because it's coming from him. That's the other thing he brings to a team, just this presence in the locker room and this sense of humor along with a passion for the game. It's incredible."

Jagr, who became an unresticted free agent on July 1, is the leading point scorer among active NHL players and ranks second all-time in NHL history in scoring with 1,914 points in 1,711 games. He's won the Stanley Cup twice (Pittsburgh Penguins 1991-92) and has been awarded the Art Ross Trophy as the League's scoring champion five times, including four straight seasons (1998-01). Jagr has played 26 seasons in the NHL.

He signed a one-year, $4 million contract with Florida in 2016 and scored 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists), but Panthers GM Dale Tallon said on July 1 they were moving on without Jagr.

"I was torn. It was a tough couple weeks, or months, whatever it was," Tallon said. "Can't thank him enough. What he did for our kids, for myself and everyone in this organization, you can't measure it."

Bjugstad agrees.

"Just seeing him play at such a high level, even today, it's very odd to be able to play 20 years in the NHL, let alone 25 or however many years he's at," Bjugstad said. "I think everyone's kind of looking at him and looking at what he does differently; how he trains, what he eats.

"I can't say enough good things about him. Where ever he ends up, I'm sure he'll do well and he'll bring the same personality and same stuff to the locker room. Any team would be lucky to have him and I can't thank him enough for all he's done for me."

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