Jagr surpasses Kurri to become NHL's greatest ever European-born scorer

22-11-2006

Only a few days ago the Czech Republic's greatest hockey player Jaromir Jagr made history by becoming only the 16th player in the NHL to ever score 600 goals. Now, he's made history again. On Tuesday night when his New York Rangers beat Carolina, Jagr scored twice more, inching past Finnish legend Jari Kurri to become the greatest European-born scorer ever. Earlier Jan Velinger spoke to Pavel Barta, a specialist in ice hockey and reporter for the Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes.

"Jaromir Jagr is a real symbol of Czech hockey in the NHL: he has incredible talent but also consistency because he wasn't an overnight sensation, he's played great year-by-year. He could probably have reached this milestone even earlier if it hadn't been for the NHL lockout. He missed one year. But anyway it's a great thing and he's a great player."

He's described Jari Kurri as an idol: are there any similarities between the two players' styles?

"I think both were great scorers - very unpredictable - and I think they also had great team mates in their teams. Kurri, in the 80s had Gretzky with the Edmonton Oilers, Jagr had Ronnie Francis or Mario Lemieux and now he has Michael Nylander of Sweden or the Czech Republic's Martin Straka with the New York Rangers."

Jagr is still fairly young: how much further, do you think, can he take his career?

"It also depends on his health because he underwent surgery on his arm in the summer and that limited him also a little bit in this season. But, now he feels great again. It depends if he stays healthy and on how long he will feel he is having fun playing hockey."

"What I was able to see was that he is playing more for his team: he doesn't think that much about himself to score and get points, but he is taking more care as captain and I think he feels more responsibility this year."

The New York Rangers will be hoping that Jagr can lead the team in a strong bid for the Stanley Cup. Certainly the player has grown in stature over the years: he was the NHL's fifth overall pick in 1990 draft that sent Jagr to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That was the powerhouse team led by Mario Lemieux that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in '91 and '92.

Making his mark with the Penguins, Jagr soon got the moniker "Mario Jr" - a reference to his star team mate Mario Lemieux but also an anagram of Jagr's first name. At nineteen, Jagr also became the youngest player to ever score in a Stanley Cup final. Over the years he was then a key player on a number of national Czech teams, including the one that famously swept aside the US, Canada, and Russia to win gold at the Olympic Games at Nagano in 1998.

Regarding his NHL record: Jagr is now 15th on the list of top sixteen all-time scorers that only includes one other active player, fellow team mate Brendan Shanahan, also in action Tuesday night. With continued good form, both he and Jagr will still shake up the numbers - and have a chance at cracking the all-time top ten. There's still more than half a season left to play and who knows how many more after that.

22-11-2006