(February 21, 2016) – Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr. Thanks to Saturday’s two-goal performance, Jaromir Jagr tied and then quickly surpassed Brett Hull for third place on the NHL’s list of all-time leading goal-scorers. More importantly, perhaps, he sparked the Florida Panthers to yet another win, keeping them five points ahead of the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division (Boston defeated Dallas 7-3 on Saturday).

Jagr has been such a constant in the NHL that, aside from three seasons Jagr spent overseas, my younger brother has never known an NHL in his lifetime without #68. And the same can be said for many of the players Jagr is currently playing alongside.

I had the privilege of covering Jagr when he arrived in south Florida near the trade deadline in the 2014-15 season. From his first game with the Cats, Jagr seemed rejuvenated and worked wonders for his young teammates.

After a disappointing 29 points in 57 games with the Devils, Jagr closed out the season with 18 points in 20 games for Florida. In his first game with the Panthers, he didn’t pick up any points on the scoresheet, but he contributed in a big way. Brandon Pirri picked up a pair of goals in the game. Afterwards, Pirri told my broadcast colleagues and I that Jagr had spoken to him shortly before his first goal with some very simple advice: Just shoot.

The Panthers fell just short of the playoffs in 2014-15 (thanks in large part to the seemingly unstoppable Ottawa Senators), but they went (12-7-2) after acquiring the ageless wonder (they had won only 2 of their previous 9 games before Jagr entered the lineup). Early in the offseason, Jagr re-signed for another year with the Cats.

This year has been a banner year for both. Jagr has continued to climb the all-time ranks and the Panthers just keep on winning. Through 59 games, the Panthers are on pace to top 100 points and Jagr is on pace for a 60-point performance, which would be his second-best season since returning to the NHL in 2011 (he posted 67 points for New Jersey in 2013-14).

The recently-44-years-young Jagr leads the Panthers in points (as of this writing), but both 22-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau and 32-year-old Jussi Jokinen are close behind him with 40 points apiece. Reilly Smith, Vincent Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov all have 35 points or more. Aaron Ekblad has followed up his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season with another fantastic year, currently sitting with 24 points.

NONE of Huberdeau, Smith, Trocheck, Barkov and Ekblad were born when Jagr made his NHL debut (only Smith was even born during Jagr’s rookie season), but all have been positively impacted by the addition of Jagr.

And the feeling has been mutual.

Jagr continuously said during his 20-game stint with the Cats at the end of last season that he gained a lot in playing with the young, skilled players on the Panthers’ roster. Fellow veteran Roberto Luongo even convinced him to regrow his famous mullet for this season. As Jagr continues to climb the ladder among the game’s all-time greats, he appears to be having a blast every step of the way.

Shortly after the end of the Panthers’ 2014-15 season, I was at the Panthers IceDen (where the team practices) for a pickup game late one night. Normally, even with a 10:00pm or later time slot, there’s something going on on the rink beforehand, and this night was similar…but different. As I walked to the locker room to get dressed, I noticed a very, very small group on the ice finishing up their session. The goalie was one that I’d seen playing in pickup games before. Then, there was a very impressive-looking skater, digging hard and with some interesting and high-end equipment. Looking a bit closer…it was Jaromir Jagr.

Now, this was only days after Jagr played in his 77th and final game of the NHL season, yet here he was, on the ice, working as hard as ever long after the sun went down. Turned out, he was preparing for the IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic. At tournament’s end, he posted an impressive 6 goals and 3 assists and earned MVP honors.

It’s that work ethic – evident game in and game out, and long before and after each game – that has kept Jagr churning out impressive numbers nearly midway through his 40’s.

Jagr entered this season with 722 career goals, three ahead of Phil Esposito for fifth on the all-time list. Now, his 742 career goals puts him one ahead of Brett Hull for third, and 49 back of the legendary Gordie Howe’s 801. With the fun he seems to be having and the condition he keeps himself in, who knows how long we could conceivably get to watch him play, or how many goals he’ll end up with. 

While catching Gretzky seems like an impossibility (even if he posted 30 goals a season, it would take him until the 2020-21 season to catch The Great One, when Jagr would turn 49 years old), catching Howe might not be quite as improbable…or it might have already happened.

From 2008-09 until returning for the start of the 2011-12 season, Jagr played for Omsk Avangard of the Kontinental Hockey League. In 155 games, he posted 66 goals and 80 assists. While it’s tough to say exactly what that would translate to in terms of NHL points, that pace of 77 points per 82 games isn’t too far removed from his averages in the years before and after that; in four NHL seasons spanning from 2006-07 to 2012-13, Jagr had 256 points in 282 games, an average of 74 points per 82 games.

Those goal totals would move him to a grand total of 808, seven goals up on Mr. Hockey. There are, of course, issues with counting Jagr’s KHL goals towards the all-time list, not the least of which is the fact that Howe posted 174 uncounted goals playing in the WHA from 1973-79. Those tallies would give Howe 975 career goals, ahead of even Wayne Gretzky’s combined 940 goals between the NHL (894) and WHA (46).

Regardless of how you slice it, Jaromir Jagr is one of the greatest players of all-time, and certainly one of the most fun to watch.