EDMONTON - Jaromir Jagr has been in the game as long as some of the Edmonton Oilers have been alive.
So having grown up watching the Philadelphia Flyers legend and then getting a chance to play against him Thursday at Rexall Place, it’s a wonder some weren’t asking for autographs between shifts.
“I played against him in the World Championships,” said Oilers winger Jordan Eberle, who was born the year Jagr made his NHL debut. “It’s pretty neat, the stats speak for themselves. He’s one of the best players to ever play the game, so getting a chance to play against him when you’re young, is pretty neat.”
Jagr returned to the NHL this season after spending the previous three years playing in Russia. Prior to departing, Jagr nearly became a member of the Oilers.
“He’s one of the top two European players to ever play in the NHL,” said Oilers defenceman Ladislav Smid. “I can’t even describe how big he is back home, he’s one of the biggest sport celebrities in the Czech. I wouldn’t want to walk in his shoes because the media is all over him all the time.”
A fellow countryman, Smid is not surprised at Jagr’s success this season at the tender age of 40.
“I thought he was going to do really well here, he had some good years in Russia before he came back here,” Smid said. “This ice surface is perfect for him, he’s a big body and he’s really strong, he can come out of the corners with the puck and go to the net. He’s also strong on the cycle and is able to find his teammates, so it doesn’t really surprise me.”
Ryan Smyth went into Thursday night’s contest a point away from reaching 800.
The Oilers veteran winger inched closer to the mark with a goal in Tuesday’s convincing win over the Calgary Flames on his 36th birthday.
“If I’m able to get to 800 points that would be phenomenal,” said Smyth prior to the game. “That’s very special in my opinion. I think a lot of that has to do with how long I’ve played. I’m getting up there in games too.”
Getting to 800 would make for a good bargaining chip as the veteran is set to become a free agent.
However with the trade deadline looming, Smyth might have to wait until he and the Oilers come to terms with a deal.
“It would be nice to settle things before,” he said. “I believe they’re talking, so that’s a good thing.”
BACK IN STRIDE
Corey Potter looked as though he hasn’t missed a beat, returning from a groin injury on Tuesday.
The Oilers defenceman had a strong performance in Calgary and then followed it up with another Thursday against the Flyers.
He’s playing as though there’s no concern about re-aggravating the injury, which kept him out for three games.
“It’s definitely in the back of your mind,” Potter said. “The two or three games before I played I didn’t feel it at all. I was pretty confident that I wasn’t going to feel it, but it is always in the back of your mind.”
The break might have actually done Potter well, getting a chance to reenergize before returning to the lineup.
“You feel a little bit more refreshed, the mind is a little more clear and you feel a little more focused because you can get your mind off of hockey for a little bit,” he said. “It definitely helps the body and the mind for sure.”
MOVING ON UP
Regina native Scott Hartnell made his way from the outhouse to the penthouse this season with the Flyers.
Heading into Thursday’s contest, Hartnell had 56 points in 59 games on the year, second in team scoring to Claude Giroux.
He started the year with just two goals and seven points in his first seven games.
“I had a tough start, I didn’t have the best training camp and I was on the fourth line for the first few games,” Hartnell said. “Then I got an opportunity to play with Claude and Jaromir and it makes a big difference when you get to play with players like that.
“I tried to make the most of the opportunity, come to practice every day and work as hard as I can. When you go to the net playing with those two guys, good things are going to happen. The puck is going in, things are bouncing my way.”