SUNRISE, Fla. – It’s hard to quantify the vast contributions that Jaromir Jagr has already made to the Florida Panthers organization since being acquired from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for two draft picks prior to last season’s trade deadline.
In the midst of his 23rd NHL season, Jagr currently leads the Panthers with 61 points and is tied with Vincent Trocheck for the team lead in goals (25). At 44, he recently became the oldest player in League history to surpass the 60-point plateau as he continues to elude Father Time as deftly as the would-be defenders that attempt to slow him down on a nightly basis.
“I still can’t believe that he’s on my team,” Panthers center Aleksander Barkov said. “I can spend time with him here and try to learn from him. He’s a great athlete and a great player. He loves this game, so he goes and works out in the middle of the night. It’s kind of crazy, but that’s what you do when you love the game.”
In many ways, Jagr’s off-ice mentorship within the organization has already surpassed the value of his on-ice production as his insatiable work ethic continues to infect the majority of his younger teammates, with up-and-coming players like Barkov and Nick Bjugstad now mimicking many of the future Hall of Famer’s quirky, yet effective training regimes.
“In the workout room there's a hockey stick painted to the exercise equipment and Jagr's doing these funky drills,” Panthers co-owner Doug Cifu said. “I walked in there the other day and I saw [Bjugstad] doing the same drill and I said, ‘Wow, that's influence. He wants to be in the league 20 years, too.’”
For these reasons and more, the South Florida chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association announced on Friday that Jagr would serve as the team’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nominee for this season.
First presented in 1968, the Masterton Trophy is awarded each season under the trusteeship of the PHWA to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
"It's a good choice, obviously," head coach Gerard Gallant said. "I hate bringing up his age all the time because he doesn't like it, but for 44 years of age and to be the leading scorer with 61 points, it's outstanding."
The Masterton Trophy will be awarded following the conclusion of the regular season after a winner is chosen from a poll of the 30 chapters of the PHWA.
Huberdeau Heating Up
A pass-first player throughout the majority of his young career, Jonathan Huberdeau has found the back of the net in each of his past four games as the 22-year-old forward turns his attention from setting up teammates to lighting the lamp himself.
“He’s been a very good player since the second half of the season for us,” Gallant said after Saturday’s morning skate at BB&T Center. “Jonathan likes to pass the puck too much for me, but when he takes the puck to the net like he has lately, he’s scoring more goals and playing real well.”
Much to Gallant’s delight, Huberdeau netted the game-tying and eventual game-winning goals in Florida’s 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, earning first star honors as well as his first #SpaceyInSpace hoodie of the season.
“I tried to shoot a little bit more I think,” Huberdeau said of his scoring surge. “That’s what I didn’t do this season and I think now it’s going in so I think we just have to keep going and playing with my two linemates, it’s going well.”
The No. 3 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, Huberdeau has tallied a career-high 18 goals in 71 games this season.
Rocco is Ready
After spending the last month working to secure a playoff berth for the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Portland, Panthers center Rocco Grimaldi believes he is more than ready for the challenges his team will face down the home stretch.
“It’s a little different,” said Grimaldi, who was recalled by Florida on Wednesday. “Up here, you’re in the lead and trying to solidify it, while down there we were in eighth place trying to make it. I’ve been playing playoff hockey for a month now.
“Every game was a playoff game [in Portland], so I’m ready for that here.”
In the absence of injured center Vincent Trocheck, the 23-year-old Grimaldi is currently centering Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell on Florida’s third line.
“They’re good guys,” Grimaldi said of his new linemates. “They’ve been patting me on the back and saying ‘good job.’ They’ve been very welcoming, which is nice. They both talk to you, which makes it a lot easier to play when you’re a young guy.”