I’m shocked by how good Jaromir Jagr has looked for the Flyers.
When he left the NHL in 2008, he looked exhausted. He was playing for a coach who didn’t mind static, half-court offensive sets without much stretch-passing or speed, but the league was changing around Jagr and around the Rangers. It was becoming harder and harder to consistently win without lots of strong skating.
Jagr could still score from a full-stop around the face-off circles, but his talents seemed to have an expiration date. He left the league for many reasons, but one of them was certainly that he just wasn’t built for the new NHL. At least not at his age.
Jagr went on to play in the KHL before returning to the NHL this summer, signing on to play for the Flyers.
But the Jagr we’ve seen in the pre-season has been a different one from the one that left the league three years ago.
This Jagr is skating well. He’s all about hustling into the offensive zone. He’s not scared to move into traffic now. He’s shooting from the slot. He’s not demanding the puck for his entire shift. But when he does get the puck, he still has that incredible shot you have to respect. Just because a goalie can see Jagr’s shot coming doesn’t mean he can stop it, as Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist saw (or didn’t see) last night. Twice.
What happened to Jagr?
Apparently, the KHL was good for his game. There was more practicing and more skating required. Jagr, who spent the bulk of his career dragging around hooking defensemen by their sticks, needed the practice. It had probably been decades since he had been able to skate freely.
Assuming Jagr continues to play as he’s been playing, and assuming the grind of the NHL season doesn’t dull his new-found skills, Jagr will be a huge difference-maker for Philadelphia. He’s played with Brayden Schenn and James van Riemsdyk, but also Max Talbot and Claude Giroux. He’s fit in with everyone, always giving the Flyers a credible second line wherever he’s played.
But can we assume Jagr will continue to play this way?
The Chris Pronger captaincy will be something to watch. Pronger is a very strong personality, as is Jagr. Will they clash as the season goes on? Will Jagr bristle if he feels Pronger isn’t treating him with the proper respect? Will Pronger become publicly frustrated by Jagr’s occasional forays into lackadaisical hockey?
The Flyers locker room is loose now, but it’s the pre-season — why wouldn’t it be? What will the locker room feel like at game 52? Or game 75?
Jagr is still an unknown quantity for the Flyers, but watching him reborn in the pre-season, one cannot help but suspect the Jagr signing is going to turn out to be a great move for the Flyers.
As long as Jagr can sustain his current level of play over the regular season and stay out of Alex Ovechkin’s way.