Penguins

Who wore it best: No. 68, Jaromir Jagr

Welcome to our series on who wore each number best for the Penguins.

The idea is being openly borrowed from our new hockey writer, Cody Tucker, and his project at the Lansing State Journal covering all the uniform numbers worn through Michigan State football history, one that’s been well received by their readers and prompted heavy discussion and debate.

Under my organization, and following the voting of a big chunk of our staff, we’ll publish one new one each day until completion, which should be right around the start of training camp.

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Name: Jaromir Jagr
Number: 68
Position: Right wing
Born: February 15, 1972, in Kladno, Czechoslovakia
Seasons with Penguins: 1990-2001
Statistics with Penguins: 806 games, 439 goals, 640 assists in regular season; 140 games, 65 goals, 82 assists in playoffs

[caption id="attachment_683599" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Jaromir Jagr at the 1992 Stanley Cup celebration at Three Rivers Stadium. -- PITTSBURGH PENGUINS[/caption]

WHY JAGR?

The 1985 World Championships were held in Prague, Czechoslovakia. 13-year-old Jaromir Jagr caught a glimpse of Team Canada star Mario Lemieux and became an instant fan, even calling Lemieux his "hero". Five years later, Jagr and his idol were teammates.

It wasn't just sheer luck that Jagr, arguably the most talented player in the draft, fell to the Penguins and the fifth overall pick. Jagr finagled his way through the pre-draft interviews to ensure he got to Lemieux and the Penguins.

“I found out years later that when he was interviewed by teams ahead of us, he told them all that he wasn’t coming over [to the NHL] right away,” Craig Patrick told DKPittsburghSports.com in 2016. “When we asked him that question, he said, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow if you draft me.’ I think other teams backed off because of that. We were happy he was there. We were surprised he was there, definitely.”

Those little lies had a big impact.

Jagr's first of his 439 regular season goals for Pittsburgh came in his second game, on Oct. 7, 1990, the game-winner in a 7-4 win over the New Jersey Devils. Jim Johnson and Kevin Stevens picked up the assists.

Jagr amassed 27 goals and 30 assists in 80 games his rookie season. He then recorded 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 24 playoff games, including five assists in the Stanley Cup Final, as he and the Penguins went on to win their first Stanley Cup.

One of Jagr's greatest moments as a Penguin came a year later. It was Game 1 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Final, and the Penguins entered the third period trailing 4-3. 15 minutes into the period, Jagr beat three Blackhawks with an incredible individual effort and tied the game. Lemieux gave the Penguins a 5-4 lead with seconds remaining in regulation, and the Penguins took Game 1.

A week later, the Penguins were in Chicago with the chance to sweep the Blackhawks. Jagr opened the scoring 1:37 into the game, his 11th goal of the playoffs. The Penguins and Blackhawks traded goals all night, but the Penguins came out on top with a 6-5 win to clinch their second Stanley Cup.

Jagr's role continued to grow with the Penguins over the years. He became the first European to win the Art Ross Trophy in the 1994-95 season, scoring 70 points (32 goals, 38 assists) in a shortened 48-game season. He eclipsed the 100-point mark four times as a Penguin, accomplishing the feat for the first time in 1995-96 with 149 points in 82 games.

One of Jagr's greatest moments as a Penguin didn't clinch a championship or a scoring title, but it may have saved the franchise.

The Penguins were working through bankruptcy in 1998-99. Lemieux had retired, Ron Francis was gone, and Jagr was the captain and face of the franchise. The Penguins put together a 38-30-14 record in the regular season and made it into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed.

Jagr, nursing a groin injury, missed four of the first five games in the first round against the No. 1 seed Devils. He returned in Game 6 with the Penguins trailing 3-2 in the series, on the brink of elimination. Jagr had a two-goal night, tying the game with two minutes in regulation and scoring the game-winner in overtime.

In 2013, Jagr recalled how important that moment was for the franchise.

“I remember that like it happened yesterday,” Jagr said. “I pulled my groin in the first game. We were losing 3-2 in the series and if we would lose the first round I think the team would move to Kansas City because they had no money. We had to make the second round to get the (money) for the payments."

“I came back and I tied it with a minute-and-a-half to go and then I scored in overtime," he continued. "That was probably my best game ever, I would say. My most important for sure. I’ll probably never score a goal that important. Probably if I hadn’t scored that goal the team wouldn’t be in Pittsburgh right now. (Sidney) Crosby would be in Kansas City.”

The Penguins were eliminated in six games in the second round, but the team wasn't going anywhere.

Two years later, in the 2000-01 season, Jagr was struggling with sharing the spotlight with Lemieux, and the Penguins were struggling with his $20.7 million salary over the final two years of his contract. Jagr, "dying alive" in Pittsburgh, asked to be traded three times during the year.

On July 11, 2001, the Penguins traded Jagr and Frantisek Kucera to the Capitals in exchange for Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, and Ross Lupaschuk.

Jagr won one Hart, two Ted Lindsays, and five Art Ross awards in his time in Pittsburgh. He remains third all-time in points (1079), second all-time in goals (439), third all-time in assists (640), and third-all time in games played (806) in Penguins franchise history. He has more game-winners than any other Penguin, with 78.

Jagr's 1733 NHL games are the third-most in league history. His 766 goals rank third, and his 1155 assists rank fifth. His 1921 points are the second-most in league history, trailing only Wayne Gretzky. His 135 game-winning goals are the most in league history.

WHAT’S HE DOING NOW?

[caption id="attachment_634450" align="aligncenter" width="640"] JAROMIR JAGR. - RYTÍŘI KLADNO[/caption]

Jagr, now 46, doesn't plan on stopping any time soon.

The Calgary Flames waived Jagr in January so he could return to his native Czech Republic and join Rytíři Kladno, where he is part-owner and team president. Jagr re-signed with Kladno in May. He isn't ruling out an eventual return to the NHL.

#JagrWatch lives on.

IT WAS SPOKEN

“From the moment I laid eyes on [Mario Lemieux], he became my hockey hero. It never occurred to me that one day I’d be playing with him on the same team. I saw every one of his games and couldn’t take my eyes off the television screen. My mom complained that it almost made her deaf. I sat in front of the television and screamed: 'Mario! Mario!' My mom was completely beside herself and asked me if I’d lost my mind. 'Why are you so hung up on that Mario? You don’t even know a single person named Mario!' she exclaimed.“ -- Jagr: An Autobiography (1997)

"Mario Lemieux was my hero from the time I saw him play in the World Championship in Prague. Now I can admit it, but a year and a half after I arrived on the team I had a little secret. I carried his picture in my wallet. If one of my teammates had found out, I’d have been the laughingstock of the team. He was a god to me. I still get nervous when I’m around him, as if I was asking for his autograph or something." -- Jagr: An Autobiography (1997)

"I like Phil Bourque. Good person. Funny. I like Paul Coffey. Great skate, great player. And Paul Stanton. Close to my age. We talk. He speaks Czech. I teach him all the bad words. I like everybody. But some guys talk too fast. John Cullen, he talks too fast. And Bob Johnson. He talks very fast. Like Russian to me." -- Jagr on his teammates and coach in February 1991

"He has got all the tools to be as good as anybody there is. When you get a chance to give it to a guy as talented as Jaromir in OT, you do it.” -- Mario Lemieux on Jagr in 1992

"Mario’s the best player in the world. I don’t have his talent. But he is my teacher. I learn from watching him. Nobody gave us any chance without Mario. But we proved we could play. I know I’ve got to play better defense. And I don’t shoot enough. I tell myself before every game, `Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!’ But I don’t.” -- Jagr on Lemieux in 1992

"A bunch of us will go out for a drink and he’ll head straight for the video games. There’ll be 100 young girls giving him quarters to play. They tell me, ‘Get your own quarters.’ “ -- Rick Tocchet on going out with Jagr in 1992

"He can carry a couple guys and walk around the net and still have control of the puck. He is so strong. His legs could be the strongest pair of legs I have ever seen on a hockey player. He’s going to be one of the top three players in the league in the next couple years.” -- Ulf Samuelsson on Jagr in 1992

"His bad driving habits were very well-known in town. He had a glove box full of speeding tickets, but he never paid them. And he would tick off policemen, because when he would get a speeding ticket, he would open up his glove box and just jam them in there. I don’t know if he ever did pay them all.” -- Phil Bourque on Jagr's driving

"The Penguins still have the best hockey player in the world." -- Mario Lemieux, on Nov. 19, 1997, the night his number was retired for the first time

"I feel like I'm dying alive. ... I don't feel comfortable here right now .It's not the same for me right now. We'll see what happens. Maybe I'm going to think about retirement pretty soon." -- Jagr in December 2000

"It's always hard to trade a good friend. We'll miss him." --Lemieux in July 2001

“I don’t know where I’m going to play, but I want to still play until I can’t walk anymore. To me, age is nothing. I don’t get old. I don’t know why. You’ve gotta ask God, man.” -- Jagr in 2014

"The time between when I quit hockey and I die, I want it to be the shortest. If I can play till I die, that’s what I will do. What else are you gonna do? Even if you retire, you still will have to go work out, and maybe harder than you do when you play hockey because you don’t wanna look ugly and fat. At least I don’t want to." -- Jagr in 2015

HONORABLE MENTIONS AT NO. 68:

None

ANY DEBATE?

702 players have suited up for the Penguins, including Jagr. Jagr would have beaten 699 of them, had they worn No. 68.

The bigger debate here is if No. 68 belongs in the rafters. It's a no-brainer in my opinion, but I know that not everyone feels the same way. Let's hear your arguments in the comments.

Thursday: Dejan has another layup in No. 71.
Sunday: Mario Lemieux

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