Jaromir Jagr always has been a compelling figure.
Early in his career, there was the hockey hair and his contributions to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships for the Penguins in 1990-91 and 1991-92 — his first two seasons in the NHL. He also helped the Czech Republic win Olympic gold in 1998 and the the world championship in 2005.
But many around him in those days wondered whether Jagr truly enjoyed the game. He didn't seem to care about his conditioning, as he does now. He seemed more attracted to the nightlife than the limelight at the rink.
The passion you see with players like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, P.K. Subban, Anze Kopitar and Erik Karlsson was missing with Jagr.
At 36, he picked up and went to Russia under mysterious circumstances for three seasons. But you could tell at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver that he yearned for another crack at NHL life.
So here we are, three weeks after his 44th birthday, and old No. 68 continues to thrive in the fifth season of his second act in the NHL.
On Monday, in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins, the Florida Panthers right wing assisted on a first-period goal from Aleksander Barkov to move past Gordie Howe and into sole possession of third place on the NHL's all-time points list.
Only two men have racked up more NHL points than Jagr's 1,851: Wayne Gretzky (2,857) and Mark Messier (1,887).
Jagr's feat came in his 1,613th game, which moved him past Ray Bourque and into ninth spot on the all-time games played list.
Like Bourque, whose longevity was forged with gruelling 400-metre sprints on a track under the hot summer sun, Jagr's workouts keep him young and the marvel of the hockey world.
Jagr always has flourished after midnight. When he was younger, that was party time. But since his return to the NHL in 2011, he has traded the clubs for midnight skating sessions with a weighted vest in Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, New Jersey and now Florida.
Sometimes, Jagr skates by himself. Other times, he cajoles a few teammates to join him. That work ethic keeps him a factor on the ice, and has been a good example for young teammates like Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
1 more year?
Whether or not Jagr returns for a 22nd season depends on him. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon repeatedly has stated he's simply waiting for word from Jagr on his intentions for next year.
Maybe Jagr gave us a hint when he remarked last month after a game in which he scored his 742nd goal to pass Brett Hull and into third on the all-time list.
"I love the game," he said. "There [are] a million people who want to be in my position. If I can play in the NHL, why not keep going?"
Why not, indeed? Besides, as good a story as Jagr has been since his return to the NHL, nothing would provide a better ending than another Stanley Cup title. It's been a while. Twenty-four years, in fact.
Jagr will return to the playoffs for only the second time since his return from Russia. He failed to score a goal in a third-line role in the Bruins' 22-game run to the 2013 Stanley Cup final against the Chicago Blackhawks.
That bothered Jagr. He wants to win. You could tell on Monday after his Panthers lost to the Bruins. When asked about passing Howe, it was the Panthers' fifth loss in six games that was on Jagr's mind.
"It's more for you guys,'' he told reporters. "It's behind me now. Let's concentrate on the wins."