We're thankful for ... Jaromir Jagr, the NHL's youth movement, hockey names -- and teammates

It's Thanksgiving week in the U.S., which means it's time to recognize the important things in life, like sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and those dinner rolls that somehow manage to be light and heavy, which is a neat trick.

Oh, and being thankful for all that life has provided us. That too.

When it comes to hockey, we have plenty for which to be thankful. So we asked a collection of NHL players, hockey personalities and the puckheads here at ESPN for the hockey-centric things that warm their hearts, whether it's something about the sport in general, this season in the league or memories from yesteryear.

Please enjoy.

T.J. Oshie, winger, Washington Capitals

I'm thankful for the joy that hockey brings me, when I play and I skate. I'm very thankful for the friendships I have. I don't know if I really have any friendships that aren't because of hockey. Basically, everywhere I've been, and everyone I've met, it's because I was there for hockey, or because they've been teammates in the past. I have pretty much everything to thank hockey for.

John Buccigross, ESPN

Thankfulness and gratitude are not a monorail to joy, but true happiness does not happen without being thankful and grateful. Hockey has often been at the hub of my happiness in between moments of anxiety, fear, bleakness, change and heartache. I'm thankful for that. I'm thankful for the game, the players, front-office personnel, fellow media and mostly, you, the fan.

As a small boy I was most comfortable at my dad's hip. My skinny self felt safe next to his thick forearms and his passion for sports (he played goalie without a mask in high school in the 1940s) and his love of music. Dad loved hockey, I love hockey. Dad sang in the car, I sing in the car. Dad would take me to a couple of NHL games in person every season, and I never wanted the games to end. When we skated on ponds, we would skate for hours and hours. I'm thankful this remarkably textured game was part of my youth.

When I became a dad, hockey was always a spoke to joy and gratefulness. At work and at home. From 1998 to 2004, I hosted NHL 2night while also having two boys play hockey. I was never happier. The joy of work, family, fatherhood and hockey intersecting like never before or since. The boys have grown and don't play anymore, the backyard rink is now melted forever, and for now, hockey doesn't dominate my work. We don't control the length of our blissful moments, but we can still be thankful for them even if they only lasted for a short time; it's the same as feeling it forever. It happened. It's forever. Thanks, hockey. You've made all the difference.

Emily Kaplan, ESPN

I am thankful for the people in hockey. After switching beats from the NFL, it was daunting to cover a sport where I barely had connections. I cannot count how many hockey people -- from ex-players to GMs -- found out I was a rookie and said, "Reach out if you ever need anything." It's that community that makes hockey special. I'm also thankful for hockey language. Over the past six months, my vocabulary has been enhanced by words like "celly" and "chiclets." (Why would you ever use the word "teeth" when you can call them "chiclets"?) My friends have no idea why I keep saying "beauty." I called an arena a "barn" last week without trying to be ironic. I firmly believe life is better when these words are used on a day-to-day basis.

Ryan Miller, goalie, Anaheim Ducks

I'm thankful for modern goalie equipment. Let's just say I would not be playing goalie if it were the 1960s or '70s.

Greg Wyshynski, ESPN

I'm thankful for the continued existence of Jaromir Jagr. For a while there, it looked like the best-case scenario was that Jagr would play in exile until the Olympics, and then maybe somehow find an NHL team to sign him for the playoff run.

Instead, Jagr got a contract with the Calgary Flames, which means a full season of Jagr assaulting the record books, Jagr defying the expectations for what a 45-year-old athlete can accomplish and Jagr extolling his Hockey Jedi wisdom during every tour stop with bon mots like, "If someone loses their speed, they are going to replace him with somebody quicker. That's why you have to have something that nobody has, so that they can't replace you."

I love that Jagr still exists in the same way that I love that Paul McCartney exists. Yes, it's much more about what they've accomplished than what they will accomplish. But what a rare joy it is to be able to point to someone and exclaim that they're a god-level virtuoso in what they do, and that you know they're thankful for each day they can continue to do it. So in turn, I'm thankful for the chance to witness that.

Aaron Ekblad, defenseman, Florida Panthers

I'm thankful to live four doors down from Keith Yandle. He has all of the young guys on the team over who don't have families for Thanksgiving. His wife cooks and it's a delicious meal.

Tim Kavanagh, ESPN

The NHL has the best names in all of the major sports, and it's been that way for some time -- mispronunciations notwithstanding. Just scanning the stat leaderboards this season, we've got Nikita Kucherov, Claude Giroux, Anze Kopitar, Johnny Gaudreau, Vladimir Tarasenko, Sergei Bobrovsky, Pekka Rinne, Kevin Shattenkirk and Shayne Gostisbehere (just to name a few), all of which are fun to say, and even more fun to hear at high decibels in an arena. Of course, that's to say nothing of Zdeno Chara, Dustin Byfuglien, Henrik Lundqvist and Teuvo Teravainen, or one of the greatest players (and names!) in history, Jaromir Jagr.

And I'd be remiss to forget about some all-time great names such asZarley Zalapski, John Ogrodnick, Dave Snuggerud, Roman Cechmanek, Jeff Beukeboom, Dominik Hasek, Radek Bonk, Miroslav Satan, Hakan Loob or John Vanbiesbrouck. Only in hockey circles does it become second nature to be able to spell Tkachuk like it were our own last name, with father Keith siring current Flames forwardMatthew Tkachukand top draft prospect Brady Tkachuk.

Speaking of the draft, there are more exquisite names on their way to the NHL, including Bode Wilde, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Alexander Alexeyev and Ric Flair's favorite hockey player, Jett Woo. It speaks to the game's international appeal that there are so many great names from so many great places represented in NHL history. I'm thankful that this is the case.

Jamie Hersch, host, NHL Network

I'm thankful for the youth movement in the NHL. The idea that some of the best players in the game are still just starting out makes this one of the most exciting times to be a hockey fan. To think that we're going to be treated to another 15-20 years of watchingAuston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Clayton Keller, Zach Werenski,Patrik Laine, Filip Forsberg, Nikita Kucherov and others tear up the ice is thrilling.

As an American, I'm even more excited about how many young stars are coming out of U.S. hockey programs. Who knows what the future holds as far as the NHL and participation in the Olympics, but if NHL players ever return to Olympic competition, there's reason to think Team USA could finally win another gold medal. Imagine putting Matthews, Keller, Werenski, Phil Kessel, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Kane together. I'm thankful that the game of hockey is alive and growing -- especially at the youth level -- in markets such as St. Louis, Arizona, Los Angeles, Tampa and now Las Vegas.

I'm thankful that 20 years from now, I'll be able to say I remember covering these young stars from the beginning of their careers. Watching the speed, toughness and skill on full display every night by guys who are just a few years removed from high school is truly remarkable. And for that, I give thanks.

Chris Peters, ESPN

I'm also thankful for the NHL's youth movement. McDavid and Matthews have helped inject the league with excitement with their spectacular exploits in the early stages of their careers, but they're only the top guys. There are so many others making massive contributions like Kucherov (17 goals, 33 points) andGaudreau (21 assists, 31 points), who are among the top three scorers in the NHL. Eleven of the top 25 goal scorers in the league are under 25 years old as well.

Meanwhile, it seems like every year we get new and exciting players who become must-see guys. Last year it was Matthews, Laine and Werenski, among others. This year,Keller is off to a tremendous start of his career, while others like Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy and Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner Mikhail Sergachev are playing beyond their years. How about the trio of rookies for the New Jersey Devils--Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt and Will Butcher? The list goes on and on. Mathew Barzal. Brock Boeser. OK, I'll stop.

And here's the best part: More are on the way. Top NHL 2018 draft prospect Rasmus Dahlin looks to be the best defenseman the draft has seen in years. After basically a decade of the NHL having to force the Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin promotional tour out of necessity, there are more compelling, talented players coming into the league -- and creating a better, more entertaining product in the process.

Cam Atkinson, winger, Columbus Blue Jackets

I'm thankful for my teammates, because without them, I wouldn't have many friends.

Matt Beleskey, winger, Boston Bruins

I'm thankful for all the friendships I've made. My whole world revolves around hockey, in some way, so I'm definitely thankful for that.

Linda Cohn, ESPN

I'm thankful for hockey for so many reasons:

My life would not have played out the way it did without hockey. The game rescued me. It gave me a stage on which to break out of my "woe-is-me, low-self-esteem, awkward-teenager" chapter of my life, when I realized a severely nearsighted girl with contacts could shock plenty of people by donning a goalie mask and gear and play hockey with the boys in the mid-1970s. And even make the boys' team in high school.

I'm thankful for my passion for the team that was handed down to me by my dad, the New York Rangers. The emotional roller coaster I became addicted to because of that connection is priceless. It still continues with my siblings and my kids.

I'm thankful for the NHL players who are like no other athletes on and off the ice. Phenomenal humans. Superheroes on skates.

Plus, there's nothing better than drinking from the Stanley Cup. I did so the night the Rangers won the Cup. To this day, I can't identify the liquid I was drinking, but why ruin a good story?

Paul Grant, ESPN

I'm most thankful for the shape of the game these days -- the rush, the speed, the skill, the dearth of clutching-and-grabbing. It's no coincidence that because the rules are being more strictly enforced, that the more talented players are getting more space and time to show us what they can do. A drop pass, a between-the-legs shot, a diving stick save. After all, these are the most talented all-around athletes in the world, so they should be able to show what they can do, right? And every team has at least one player fans should be excited about watching. Combined with the technology of lighter and more protective equipment, the entertainment value has never been higher. That's what I'm thankful for.
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