Flames land talented Swede Mikael Backlund with first-round pick

Saturday, 23.06.2007 / 12:13 PM / News
The Canadian Press
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Flames land talented Swede Mikael Backlund with first-round pick

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CP) - Swedish teen Mikael Backlund has a habit of scoring important goals, and the Calgary Flames could sure use a few.

Maybe Backlund can supply some when he's ready to play in the NHL. Calgary got him with their first-round pick, 24th overall, in the entry draft Friday night.

"I'm a two-way playmaking centre who scores some goals and gets some assists," Backlund said. "I love to do that."

The six-foot, 195-pound centre is an exceptional skater and stickhandler who works hard at both ends of the ice. He also is known for his competitiveness and leadership traits.

Backlund helped Sweden win bronze at the world under-18 tournament last winter by leading all players with six goals.

He was rated No. 2 among European skaters going into the draft so the Flames were happy he was still available. Calgary originally had the 18th drafting position but traded it to St. Louis for 24 and 70.

Backlund only played 27 games for Vasteras. He struggled early on and then suffered a knee injury, but he was in top form at the under-18 tourney. Scouts say his style resembles that of veteran NHL forward Mike Sillinger.

Also Friday, the Flames completed a trade for Adrian Aucoin that added some insurance on defence.

Calgary got a seventh-round draft pick in the deal that sent defenceman Andre Zyuzin and prospect Steve Marr to the Blackhawks, who unloaded the $8-million US salary left on the final two years of Aucoin's contract.

The Flames needed a top-four defenceman because Calgary is expected to lose both Brad Stuart and Roman Hamrlik to unrestricted free agency on July 1.

"I'd rather have a player under contract than trying to negotiate a contract when you don't know what the marketplace is," said Flames GM Darryl Sutter. "I don't think we're a team that's going to free-agent shop for a high-priced defenceman because we don't have to."

Aucoin, who was Chicago's captain last season, agreed to waive the no-trade clause in his contract.

"We're in a rebuilding phase here and this was a chance to go to a contending team," said Aucoin. "I've always like the way Calgary played and to play with a guy like Iginla is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

The 33-year-old from Ottawa will start his 11th NHL season with the Flames. He had four goals, 12 assists and 50 penalty minutes in 59 games for the Blackhawks last season.

Aucoin, six foot two and 214 pounds, has also played for the Islanders, Tampa Bay and Vancouver, who drafted him in the fifth round of the 1992 draft.

He played for Mike Keenan, hired last week as the Flames' new head coach, for two seasons in Vancouver.

"I think he brings an ingredient for our power play without question," Keenan said. "He has an exceptionally hard shot. He's a right-handed shot, which I think is good for this hockey team.

"He's got some experience and he's a man that can take a lot of minutes and a lot of ice time."

Calgary's top two defenceman under contract, Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr, are both left-handed shots.

Aucoin says he's looking forward to playing for Keenan again.

"He's a tough customer who demands from a lot from his players and the strong ones usually stick around," he said.

When the draft resumes Saturday, the Flames won't have a second-round pick. There next shot at available teen talent, barring further trades, will come with the 70th spot they got from the Blues.