Backlund continuing to thrive through career year
CALGARY, AB -- In his post-practice media address on Monday, Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley was asked about Mike Cammalleri's recent offensive outburst.
He had strong praise for the veteran winger and his contributions but the bench boss made sure that his linemate got his fair share of attention as well.
"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."
When told about his coach's comments, Backlund was pleasantly surprised.
"That's nice to hear," he grinned. "I didn't know he said that so it's pretty cool to hear. It's been an up-and-down start for me this year. Since I got going, I've been feeling comfortable out there and I've been playing well.
"I'm happy to hear praise like that and personally, I feel good about myself. I don't think I'm that good yet but I'm going to keep working hard and hopefully I'll be a top player here."
While he didn't jump out to the start he would have liked, amassing just seven points in his first 24 games of the year, Backlund was able to get his game back on track in late November when the Flames downed the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center on Nov. 30.
He assisted on Cammalleri's game-winning goal that night and since that pivotal moment, he has been one of the Flames best forwards.
"Things change quickly in this business. There was a tough stretch and I wasn't happy with my game, and how I [was] playing. I had to focus and get my game back together.
"I went to people close to me, who know me very well, and they helped me out a lot. I got out of it and I feel I'm getting better and better as the season has moved on."
Not only has Backlund been producing consistently since that fateful night in Hollywood, with 31 points since Nov. 30, he has developed into a responsible defensive player who can be utilized in all situations; he's out on the ice late in a game when the team is down by a goal or up by a goal, on the power play, and he is a regular on the Flames penalty kill.
In regards to advanced stats, Backlund is the team's best forward with a 51.1 Corsi percentage and a 52.6 Fenwick percentage, meaning he's spending a good chunk of his shifts playing in the offensive zone.
His even-strength zone starts have been split fairly equally - 30.8 per cent in the offensive zone, 35.0 per cent in the neutral zone, and 34.3 per cent in the defensive zone - showcasing the coaching staff's confidence in his ability to play a 200-foot game.
"I take pride in being a player like that. When I was younger, in junior and when I was a kid, I was mostly offensive and not as good defensively as I am now. But I've taken a lot of pride working on it since I started playing pro and it's been paying off lately."
Another thing that has been paying off for Backlund in recent games is his chemistry with his new linemates.
When Curtis Glencross returned to the lineup, Hartley opted to place Backlund in between Cammalleri and Paul Byron. The trio have gelled in their short time together and have combined for 10 points in their last three games.
"It's been a good stretch lately. They're easy guys to play with," Backlund says. "They're both good skaters, good playmakers, both can finish too. It's been fun playing with them."