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'Oh boy, here we go': Wild's Matt Cullen suddenly NHL's oldest player

Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cullen rests during a time out in the third period against the Winnipeg Jets Jan. 13 at Xcel Energy Center. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL—NHL legend Jaromir Jagr, 45, was placed on waivers by the Calgary Flames on Sunday, and signed a deal with a team he owns in his native Czech Republic on Wednesday.

And just like that, Wild forward Matt Cullen, the 41-year-old from Moorhead, Minn., assumed the role of oldest player in the league.

"It's been mentioned a few times (around the locker room)," Cullen said. "I saw that coming when I started seeing the news. I was like, 'Oh, boy. Here we go.' "

Cullen has nothing but praise for Jagr, whose underwhelming 22 games with the Flames were by no means indicative of a hall-of-fame career that covered almost three decades, from 1990 to 2018, and nine teams.

"It's a pretty amazing career," Cullen said. "I was lucky enough to play with him. I had a season with him with the (New York) Rangers in 2007. I was so impressed with how much he puts in to taking care of himself and committing to the game. That was kind of before guys were doing a lot of that. He was really committed to doing what he needed to do. He was there before everybody. His late-night workouts are pretty well documented. It takes a lot to continue to play at that age. What a career he had."

If his NHL career is actually over, Jagr will hang up the skates having played 24 seasons in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, and Flames. He is the NHL's active leader in goals (766) and assists (1,155) and his 1,921 points are second all time to Wayne Gretzky.

"It's amazing," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I had Teemu Selanne (at 43 years old) and I thought he was the most amazing athlete in the world, and I say that in all seriousness. If we look at every other sport, there's no 44-year-old man playing at that level."

Boudreau mentioned a couple of outliers in other sports: Tom Brady in football and Nolan Ryan in baseball.

"To play 15 minutes in (an NHL) game in a physical sport like this at that age is pretty incredible," Boudreau said. "I don't think people realize how good it is for a Jagr or Gordie Howe or Teemu Selanne to do the things they did at that age. Or Matt Cullen, quite frankly."

Niederreiter returns

Nino Niederreiter practiced with the Wild on Wednesday at TRIA Rink, the first time he's skated with his teammates in more than three weeks. He could return to the lineup for Friday night's game against the Vegas Golden Knights at Xcel Energy Center.

"I felt pretty good," Niederreiter said. "Just excited to be back. Obviously, I've been skating by myself with (skating coach) Andy Ness. It kind of feels a little lonely. It's great to have some guys out there."

Niederreiter has been dealing with a lingering left ankle injury, suffering the initial injury in mid-October during a game against the Chicago Blackhawks. He called the injury as a bone bruise on Wednesday, and admitted that he might have rushed back too soon earlier this season.

"Just felt like I had to man up and play through it," Niederreiter said. "At some point (I) couldn't take the pain anymore. That's kind of what happened."

Staal absent

Eric Staal skipped Wednesday's practice, taking some time to rest after a busy week.

"It's just a maintenance day," Boudreau said. "He never got a day off with the All-Star Game and all the stuff. ... So today I thought was a good day to give him a day off."

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service

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