Behind The Bench: Mikael Backlund
Born: March 17, 1989
Wt: 203 lbs
Drafts: 24th overall by the Calgary Flames in 2007
Plays for: Calgary Flames, Center, Shoots Left
Jersey No.: #11
Regular Season: 97 GP – 11 G – 24 A – 35 P
Playoffs: 0 GP – 0 G – 0 A – 0 P
In his only year in the WHL during the 08/09 season, Backlund finished the season with 30 points in 28 games and was tied for most goals in the 2009 WHL Playoffs with teammate, Jamie Benn with 13 goals. Other NHL players that have led the WHL playoffs in goal scoring include Zach Boychuk (13), Devon Setoguchi (11) and Gilbert Brule (16).
The Calgary Flames drafted Backlund 24th overall in 2007. Backlund was ranked second among European players. The Flames signed Backlund to a three-year ELC in the 08 offseason.
Backlund had an interesting 08/09 season. First, he impressed during the Flames rookie camp but did not have the same success during the main training camp. He was then loaned to Vasteras back in Sweden. Since the Flames loaned Backlund to Vasteras, they did not burn a year from Backlund’s contract. He then played for Sweden in the 2009 World Junior Championships where he was named Sweden’s top forward. After his success at the 2009 WJC, he joined the Calgary Flames for a one-game stint before the Flames assigned him to the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL, where he ended his journeymen season scoring at a point per game pace and would leading the WHL in playoff goal scoring.
The following season, Backlund played 54 games with Flames’ AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat. He was called up on January 26, 2011 and scored his first NHL goal in his third career NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes on January 28, 2011. Backlund finish the 09/10 season with the Flames playing in 23 games, recording 1 goal and 9 assists for a promising 10 points. He also recorded 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points with the Heat.
Backlund spent the most of the 10/11 season with the Calgary Flames. Backlund was a healthy scratch for 6 straight games from December 20, 2011 to January 1, 2011 and then was sent down to Abbotsford on January 3, 2011 only to be recalled on January 5, 2011. Backlund played in 73 games his rookie season scoring 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 points while playing mainly on the third line.
He will likely get his chance to center the first-line at the start of the season with Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla on his wings but unless he can produce immediately, expect to see him back on the third-line. Backlund will likely see more power play time next season on the second unit. If the Flames play as they did the first half of last season, Backlund should be able to tally 30-35 points, if the Flames play above themselves as they did in the latter half of last season, Backlund should be able to contribute 35-45 points.
Backlund is a speedy play maker with a very strong shot and a solid backhand. Backlund is the type of play maker that can make passes only elite play makers like Henrik Sedin can make. He’s great at threading the needle and finding the open man or the trailer on the rush. Like all skilled play makers, Backlund sees the ice well and reads plays well. Backlund is strong physically and at times can be an aggressive player but not consistently enough. Backlund is a good defensive player, he has good positioning as well as speed to make up for any lapses he has in judgement. Backlund is a good player and can be a difference maker but like many young players in the league, needs to work on being consistent game-to-game.
For Backlund to take the next step in his development he needs to learn to use his body more effectively and throw his weight around more. He is 6’0″ at 200 lbs but he only had 35 hits in his first full season. Comparably, Avalanche center Mark Olver, who is 5’10” and 170 lbs played and played in 18 games, had 27 hits. Backlund isn’t a grinder or an energy-type player but he does primarily play on the third-line so he will need to add the bang and crash element to his game to be an effectively third-line center. Admittedly, Backlund is more of a skilled player but learning to take the body and using his body to his advantage will give him and his line mates more space to work with on the ice.
Backlund also needs to improve in the faceoff dot. Last year he was 48% in the dot while taking 664, right wing, Iginla took 420 draws and was 54% in the dot. Backlund also has a great shot and release that he doesn’t use enough. He could also further improve his defensive game. Last season Backlund shot the puck on net 144 times and scored 10 goals. While Vancouver Canucks center, Henrik Sedin, the league leader in assists last season, shot the puck 157 times and scored 19 times. Backlund has a better shot than Henrik does, so if he shoots more, he’ll should score more goals, even if he doesn’t score his linemates and cash-in on rebounds, giving the Flames more depth to their offense.
If Backlund reaches his full potential he could become the long awaited first-line center for Iginla. If he stays as he is now, he’ll become a decent second-line center. He is still young and has only recently finished his second professional season. At worst, Backlund develops at a slower pace like Henrik Sedin and becomes an offensive threat in his 4th year in the league. Backlund is still young and continuing to develop, while the Flames are old and they do not have much in future first and second line wingers, Backlund will be hard-pressed to become an offensive threat. For him to become that offensive threat, either the Flames rebuild their team around Backlund and find him wingers or trade him for piece of their future or pieces to help them make a push with all their older players now. If Backlund can continue to develop and get better wingers, he should become a consistent 65-75 point producer.
Persistency, speed, size, hands and a great backhand make Backlund’s future a bright one.
Behind The Bench appears Monday to Friday only on puckpuckgoose.com.