CALGARY, AB -- The 2013-14 campaign was a renaissance year for Calgary Flames pivot Mikael Backlund.
The Swede potted a career-high 18 goals and 39 points through 76 games - the most he has played in a single season - and solidified himself a top-six spot in the Flames lineup.
In terms of advanced stats, he leads all regular Flames forwards with a 51.7 Corsi-for percentage. He also set a career-high with a 10.1 shooting percentage, converting on 18 of his 178 shots.
The 25-year-old also went through the season relatively unscathed. In prior years, he suffered injuries that held him out of numerous games and hampered his momentum. This year, he only missed the last five games of the year with a hand malady and was a healthy scratch back on Oct. 30 when the Toronto Maple Leafs.
However, it wasn't smooth sailing through the whole year. In the first couple months of the season, he struggled with consistently and couldn't generate much offensively.
Looking back, he focused on the Nov. 30 game against the Los Angeles Kings as the pivotal point in his season. He assisted on Mike Cammalleri's last minute game-winning goal and he took off from there.
"I remember the fathers trip to LA - the second and third period I started skating with the puck more and making more plays. I just felt like, 'This is how I can play.'
"At the end of the game I had a nice pass to [Cammalleri] to win the game. I felt like after that is where it just started taking off."
Now, he's looking to take his game to the next level.
There is no doubt Backlund is pleased with his accomplishments this year but he feels he is far from reaching his ceiling. He wants to hit the next gear in his development in the 2014-15 season and help carry Calgary into the playoffs.
"Mentally, I just have to think the same way I did at the end of this season and keep the swagger and cockiness that I had for half of the [past] season. Keep playing the way I know I can play. Don’t sit back and think too much, just go out and have fun.
"I just have to keep working out and get quicker, faster, stronger, everything. Then I need to break down my game and look at video and everything like that and try to improve things on the ice too this summer."
Backlund's outstanding play from December onwards definitely didn't go unnoticed by the Flames brass, earning high praise from bench boss Bob Hartley.
"Mikael Backlund is starting to be probably one of the best two-way centremen in this league," Hartley stated.
"The way that he skates, the way that he reads. You look what he does on the power play, on the penalty kill. He's rounding up his game. He's maturing around his game."
Backlund will get a bit more playing time in before summer arrives and he begins his off-season training. He is suiting up for Sweden in the 2014 Men's World Ice Hockey Championships next month.
"I’ve been asked and I’m going to say yes," he said. "I’m going to go unless the hand [injury] takes longer to heel but it’s supposed to get better every day and we don’t play [our first] game until May 1st in Stockholm. It should be fine and I’m really excited to go."
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