Mikael Backlund is making a case for a permanent roster spot
CALGARY, AB -- With the addition of five new veteran forwards, it may have been concluded by many that Mikael Backlund had a ticket back to the Calgary Flames affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat, but the rookie center has given the coaching staff several reasons to keep him up with the big club.
The 20 year-old former first round draft pick in 2007 (24th overall) played his first game of 2009-10 season on Jan. 27 against the Dallas Stars and over the course of four games he's solidified himself in the Flames roster. The team has earned points in all four of the games Backlund has played in (2-0-2) and he has potted his first NHL goal and picked up an assist.
"I'm really happy to be here," Backlund told CalgaryFlames.com. "It's been really good so far, I'm playing with some really good players. I really enjoy it and hope to stay here for a long time."
After general manager Darryl Sutter acquired Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers and Ian White in a blockbuster trade with Toronto on Sunday, the team had a plethora of forwards to use on Monday's tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers and Backlund found himself on the healthy scratch list. While no one is claiming the Flames lackluster performance was caused by Backlund's exclusion from the lineup, the energy and enthusiasm he brings to the ice was glaringly obvious.
"It was hard," Backlund said of the scratch. "I'd rather play than watch. It's always hard to sit up in the stands and watch."
The Flames were involved in another major trade on Monday night when Sutter shipped out Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust for Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik, signaling the lineup would once again be vastly different on Wednesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. More than a few thought Backlund would once again find himself on the sidelines but that wasn't the case.
Sutter said that he was able to deal Jokinen to the Rangers because of the emergence of Backlund, something the rookie was beaming about when asked about the amount of trust the coaching staff and administration has in him.
"I'm happy to hear that, it's good news for me," he smiled. "I'm really happy. I'm enjoying my time up here and want to stay as long as I can, hopefully for a long period. I really like playing up here and I'm happy to be given the opportunity to play."
Backlund was back in the thick of things on Wednesday when he shoved veterans Brian McGrattan and Jamie Lundmark onto the scratch list and was placed on the third line, centering Dustin Boyd and Rene Bourque. The trio seemed to click instantly and combined for nine shots on net and four excellent scoring opportunities.
"I like our combination, there's a lot of speed and skill," the Swede said. "Everybody has a lot of energy and we've got a good chemistry out there."
His linemates have been quick to dole out praise, citing the combination of Backlund's speed and skill as the key reasons for his success.
"Backs is a great young player," Boyd said last week. "He's so fast and has got great hands. He's fun to play with."
When asked why he's been able to succeed and gel with his teammates so quickly, Backlund gave credit to his time with the Heat.
"The pace is higher up here than the American Hockey League. The style of the game is kind of the same. I learned a lot down there from the AHL, the pro life and stuff like that, the game of pros. So it's good for me, being down in the AHL for a few months."
He singled out coming over from Sweden to North America as a turning point in his career. In his last year with VIK Västerås HK (2007-08), Backlund had 11 goals and 15 points in 46 games. When he made the leap over the Kelowna Rockets in the Western Hockey League in the 2008-09 season, he notched 12 goals and 30 points in 28 games.
"It helped me a lot because I had a bad season in Sweden last year. I didn't find my game, I was struggling a lot and I didn't find my confidence at all. I just really struggled. I just needed to get something new and Kelowna was perfect for me. When you get over to North America, there's more intensity, more of a physical game, faster so it was good for me to come over and play a lot of games. The schedule over here is a lot harder than it is in Sweden."
Backlund has a whirlwind year, going from the Rockets to the Heat and now the Flames, but he's trying to take it all in stride and just enjoy the ride.
"It's been quite interesting the past year, being in a lot of places, but it's still hockey. I'm just enjoying playing. Kelowna last year was awesome, the Memorial Cup and stuff like that in the WHL. I got a lot of experience in pro life and pro hockey, experienced a lot there and then to come up here, you just get so happy when you get the call up. I'm just really happy to be here and I'm trying to work harder so I can stay here for a long time."