Rangers trio leads trend of comeback players in '05
Posted: Monday November 28, 2005 3:11PM; Updated: Monday November 28, 2005 3:11PM
Jaromir Jagr is tied for the league lead with 21 goals this season.
Andy Marlin/Getty Images
Much of the talk in the hockey world has centered on the impact of sensational rookies Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. But several veteran players -- four European born players in particular -- have had a renaissance of sorts to start the new season. Whether the reason is the application of the rule book, a return to health, or a newfound passion for the game, these guys come to mind as superstars returning to top form.
You might as well begin at the top of the scoring heap and look at Jaromir Jagr. He is playing an invigorated game, leading the Art Ross race as the NHL's top point producer. He has won the award five times, but not since 2001. Jagr's affinity for hockey may have much to do with last season when he split time playing in Russia and at home in the Czech Republic. Still, by all reports he likes the atmosphere cultivated by Rangers coach Tom Renney and as he has proven in the past, a contented Jagr is a contributing Jagr.
One thing that makes Jagr happy in New York is his teammates -- especially Michael Nylander and Martin Straka. Nylander had a nomadic season away from the NHL playing in Finland as well as for two teams in Russia. His return to form after an injury-riddled 2003-04 season has sparked New York's top line. Nylander's puck-possession passing game -- his career assist-to-goal ratio is well over 2:1 -- buys time until Jagr springs free. The pair spent the 2002-03 together in Washington, so the familiarity factor was something the Rangers were counting on.
After battling injury and inconsistency since breaking his leg twice in the 2001-02 campaign, Straka played well last year in his native Czech Republic and has blended beautifully with Nylander and Jagr. His versatility is an advantage as he plays wing with those two, while also centering the second line at times. He mans the point on the power play -- something he did for years in Pittsburgh on the same line with Jagr -- and he played with Jagr on the Czech National team last season in both the World Cup and World Championships.
Whether each of the Rangers' top scoring trio would be experiencing such renewed success without the others is open for debate. What isn't in question is the fine first quarter turned in by Teemu Selanne in his return to Anaheim. He was once a marquee name for the Ducks, but his career foundered since he left Anaheim because of injuries and lethargy in his game that ran counter to his personality. Well, the on-ice verve and vigor one again matches the off-ice demeanor. Finally healthy after multiple knee surgeries, Selanne is leading the Ducks in scoring, registering 14 goals in 25 games -- the only Duck with double-digit tallies.
And while it is nice to know the future of NHL goal-scoring is on the capable sticks of the likes of Crosby, Ovechkin, Gagne, Kovalchuk, Heatley, Staal et al, it's nice to see the present represented by some reborn superstars.