Wayne Gretzky played against Jaromir Jagr in his final NHL game, on April 18, 1999. Seventeen years later, the NHL's all-time scoring leader said he is amazed that not only is Jagr still playing, but that he's a major contributor to the Florida Panthers.
"It's really remarkable," Gretzky told "NHL Live" on Friday. "It's one thing to be playing at this age; it's another to be playing at a high level like he is. He's an important piece of their hockey club, both on the ice and off the ice. He's been a remarkable player for the NHL and especially right now for the Panthers.
"There's only been a few guys in our sport: [Chris] Chelios, Gordie Howe, Mark Messier, and of course Jagr, who can play at this age and contribute at a high level in the way that those guys are. He's definitely playing at a high level right now, and good for him. It's great for hockey."
Gretzky said he is excited by the rookie talent in the League this season.
"You can see the level of play going to another level with guys like [Jack] Eichel and Connor McDavid and the young Russian (Artemi Panarin) in Chicago," he said. "These kids are taking hockey to even another level. It's great news and a positive for the National Hockey League."
Gretzky said he is especially impressed with McDavid, taken by the Edmonton Oilers with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, and is eager to see what the 19-year-old forward can accomplish.
"He embraces the pressure; he's under the microscope and it doesn't seem to faze him whatever," Gretzky said. "He just really plays hard every night. Unfortunately for him he got injured (McDavid missed 37 games with a fractured clavicle); if he hadn't been injured I think he would have racked up a lot of points. He's got a lot of hockey ahead of him, a lot of years to go, and he's going to be wonderful for the Edmonton Oilers and the NHL."
Gretzky, a 10-time Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL's top scorer, said he also enjoys watching Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, the player who's likely to win the scoring title this season.
"Patrick Kane has had a real special year," Gretzky said. "It's really been remarkable, what he's done and what he's accomplished. There's no question he's had an MVP banner season. He's fun to watch and he's an exciting player."
Gretzky will captain the Oilers alumni team that will play a team of former Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 22 as part of the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic.
"I don't know how good we'll be, but we're all looking forward to it," he said. "I've talked to a bunch of the guys already to see who wanted to play, and we pretty quickly put together 15 or 16 guys pretty rapidly."