CALGARY, AB -- Mikael Backlund was a surprise scratch Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He’s itching to get right back into the lineup Friday night versus the Detroit Red Wings.
“I’m excited to play again, obviously,” Backlund said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s never fun to sit out. One game is enough.”
The 24-year-old was a healthy scratch against Toronto on Wednesday with coach Bob Hartley opting instead to insert rugged forward Tim Jackman into the lineup. Hartley said Jackman’s inclusion was about responding to the truculent nature of the visiting Leafs, but also indication he wants to see more from Backlund, who has just two goals in 11 games this season.
“We had a good talk yesterday,” the 6-foot, 198-pound pivot said. “He said he wasn’t mad at me. He thought I played pretty solid but he wants another step out of me and I know myself too I have to get better. I’ve just got to keep sticking with it and try to get better.”
Last season, Backlund had eight goals and 16 points in 32 games and earned rave reviews for his play at both ends of the ice from Hartley. But he hasn’t been able to replicate that success and has found himself pushed down the depth chart by newcomers Sean Monahan and Joe Colborne.
Hartley, who hasn’t been shy with giving the former first round pick plenty of praise in the past, is now tasked with building the young centre back up.
“We’re at the stage with Mikael where we have to push him to the next gear,” Hartley said. “We have to find a new gear in his game. He’s willing for this. That’s why last night I wasn’t very pleased to scratch him but I felt I had to do it and I sat with him and we had a great talk and I’m sure he’s going to bounce back. I don’t want him in a limited role all year.
“He’s a young prospect for us even though he’s been with the organization for a few years now. I think that he has a lot to offer but I want to be a partner with him and help him bring it on the ice. We do lots of video. We try to show all of our players what we want, what we expect from there.”
“He just wanted me to take another step in my career here,” Backlund said. “He knows I can take my game to another level. I know it myself, too. We’re just trying to keep working on it and find a way to get there.”
It starts with helping him find consistency in his game.
Backlund admitted that element has been missing out on the ice.
“I just have the same mindset every game,” he said. “I’ve tried, obviously, but I don’t know. I’ve got to find a way to be more consistent. That’s why I am where I am now, because I wasn’t. I’ve got to figure that out and when I get a chance to play more I’ll grab it.”
Hartley’s second point of contention has been Backlund's lack of offensive contribution. With just four points, he's 12th in team scoring.
And while Backlund has been steady in the defensive zone, Hartley wondered if the forward is paying too much attention to the details in his own end.
“I think that Mikael is so conscientious about his defence that he forgets that he has lots of skill," he said. It’s my job to remind him of this.”
It’s rare that a coach has to remind his young forward to focus more attention to play at the offensive end. Typically, it’s the other way around.
But Backlund understands he’s the exception, not the rule.
“I’ve been a little hesitant out there I feel at times, where I think defence before offence and don’t want to make mistakes or don't want to get caught anywhere. I’ve got to let that go, don’t think, just play and just be myself and play the way I used to.
“Just trying to do the right things at the right time and try and be creative when I can and when I shouldn’t be, do the easy plays and just keep being solid defensively, work hard all over the ice and when I get the opportunity, try to be patient with the puck and don’t throw pucks away and just make plays at the right time and do it as often as you can when there’s opportunities.”
Opportunities are the key.
Backlund will have one Friday against the Red Wings. He’ll be re-inserted into the lineup to face the Eastern Conference foe -- wiith a little extra motivation to spur him on.
“Nobody wants to sit out,” he said. “It’s never fun, so I’m going to keep working hard and try to get better.”
And back to the Backlund he feels he can be.
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