When the New Jersey Devils signed Jaromir Jagr back in the summer, I called it a short-term solution for the Devils. It couldn't be anything but that. It was a one-year deal with half of the money coming in bonuses to a 41-year old player. The timing demanded a short-term solution. A certain Russian winger decide to voluntarily retire to go play for some no-name team in some inferior league a few days prior. So there was a hole open at right wing that needed to be filled rather quickly. The expectation I had at the time would be that Jagr would produce enough to be a factor, not be a drain on possession, but I questioned how much he could really bring to the proverbial table. After ten games and one bonus payment of $250,000, and he's brought a lot of good to the Devils.
So far, Jagr currently leads all Devils forwards in scoring with two goals and five assists. He currently has a three game point streak consisting of four assists. In points, he's only behind Marek Zidlicky, who had eight. Unlike Zidlicky, Jagr has been more active at firing the puck. He's got 23 shots on net, third and right behind Patrik Elias and Damien Brunner. According to Hockey Analysis, he's got 27 total shooting attempts and 16 shots in 5-on-5 play, putting him fourth on the team in attempts and shots in that situation. If you include all situations, Extra Skater has Jagr at 39 total attempts, second behind Brunner's 43. Jagr has been an attacking player and he's clearly produced so far.
The good play from Jagr extends to possession as well. According to Extra Skater's player page, Jagr's been on the ice for 106 attempts by his own team compared with 76 by the opposition in 5-on-5 play. That's an excellent 57.6% percentage, which currently ranks sixth on the team and fourth among all regulars. Reducing the situation to score-tied and score-closed 5-on-5 situations actually has that percentage go up so he's not cleaning up with a deficit or a big lead (rare as those have been this season). On top of that, his relative Corsi percentage - the team's Corsi percentage with him on the ice minus without him - is also positive. It's safe to say that good things happen when Jagr's on the ice. I suspect it's not all his doing since Elias is his most common teammate in 5-on-5 play according to Hockey Analysis. However, I don't think he's a passenger just riding the People Play Well With Patrik Elias Train as he was still positive without Elias. Should Jagr keep this up, then he'll continue to attack without getting torched. That's good since it means the team is attacking when he's out there and Jagr's never been a defensive player.
Jagr has not been limited by much either. He does get plenty of offensive zone starts. Extra Skater has his offensive zone start to defensive zone start ratio at 65.3%, which is quite high. It's also not surprising given Jagr's skill set. Given that the Devils have not had the last change in most of their games this season, Peter DeBoer has made a point of it to get this attacking veteran out there in attacking situations. Even with that, Jagr's averaging 14:16 per game in even strength ice time (third among Devils forwards) and 17:54 per game overall (fourth among Devils forwards). He's not just facing the opposition's weakest players, he's been playing a significant amount of minutes. I'd say Jagr has earned his minutes so far. He's not only produced but has come out ahead in possession.
What makes all this remarkable is that Jagr was basically a non-factor for the first two games of the season. Jagr didn't play in a preseason game and missed most of the practices in training camp due to soreness. While he skated independently, he was incredibly rusty in his first two appearances. He moved slowly, his play on the puck wasn't sharp at all, and he seemed behind on what was going on. But once he got those two games behind him, he now looks like a NHL player well under the age of 41. He's moving faster, he's been attempting and making shots, he's going into the "tough" areas and using his big body and butt to box out defenders to get or maintain puck possession, and he's made plays to his teammates. So he really got going for eight out of his first ten games and still managed to put up seven points.
The points themselves are worth a look. His two goals displayed his finishing. (Note: all links in this paragraph go to NHL.com videos.) His first of the season saw him gain the zone, head to the middle, and just beat Jason LaBarbera straight up. His second finished off a great pass from Elias off the rush to beat Roberto Luongo. While Jagr hasn't scored a goal since - and he's come close - he's helped others light the lamp. Of his five assists, only his one in the first Vancouver game was not an actual pass. The other four included: getting the puck to Rostislav Olesz in the Devils' end, who then sprung Adam Henrique for his goal rush on Henrik Lundqvist; drawing some attention and then firing it to Michael Ryder for a power play blast; finding Ryder alone in the slot on a power play in Columbus; and hitting Andrei Loktionov with a cross-ice pass, who fed Elias with a brilliant pass on Thursday. Even in that case, he fought for the puck down low to win it so it's not like he got credited for a meaningless touch. Jagr's points haven't been all that cheap; he's earned all but one of his assists. He'll undoubtedly crack the 1,700 point mark as he only needs five more points. At this rate, he'll hit that mark very soon.
Jagr has made an impact as a forward on the Devils within his first ten games. I'd say he's earned his money so far, bonuses included. With the way he's been playing, he should continue to do so for the next few games. He'll likely get the benefit of offensive zone starts and he'll likely play a lot alongside Elias, both of which that can only help him in the future. It's an open question as to how long he can keep making an impact, though. He is 41 and if bad puck luck or slumps don't get him, then Father Time may slow him down further. We saw it two seasons ago with Petr Sykora, it could happen to Jagr in Spring 2014. But that's a long time away. For now, all Devils fans should appreciate the hard work Jagr's put in apart from games and the contributions he's made in these first ten games. His performances have at least given me something to smile about even though the team really has not so far this season. I would hope he continues to do for all involved.