Recently I had the chance to talk to Uffe Bodin, the Editor in Chief for hockeysverige.se. Uffe was updating the twitter-verse with the happenings around the various Swedish hockey leagues. I took the opportunity to ask how Mikael Backlund was faring playing with VIK Västerås HK in the HockeyAllsvenskan league. He replied…
— Uffe Bodin (@UffeBodin) October 30, 2012
After a short discussion back and forth, Uffe agreed to do an interview for Flames Nation specifically about Mikael and his start to this season. After all, who doesn’t want another article about Mikis, right?
Vintage Flame: What has been your impression of the play of Mikael Backlund so far this year?
Uffe Bodin: He’s obviously playing in a league that is far, far away from the NHL when it comes to overall skill, but his game has certainly exceeded my expectations. He had a rough season in the NHL last year and I was uncertain of where he stood after all the injuries. These past few weeks, however, he has probably been the most dominant player in the league. And that’s a pretty good thing since guys like Anze Kopitar, Matt Read, Carl Hagelin, Gabriel Landeskog and Patrik Berglund are also playing here.
VF: Last year, because of injuries, Mike didn’t have the opportunity to get off to the quick start that he has had this year. In your opinion, what has been the main reason he has seen early success in VIK Västerås HK?
UB: A lot of players that come to Sweden from the NHL have needed some time to adjust. With Mikael, it seemed like he was able to do everything right away. He had three points in his first game and has just been playing better and better after that. Since Västerås is the only club he ever played for in Sweden, I’d say familiarity is probably the key. He knows all the players and the coaches after working out with them during the summer. That probably helps a lot.
VF: How would you describe Backlund’s role with Västerås in terms of his “time on ice”?
UB: He’s playing in pretty much every situation together, not as a centerman but as a leftwinger.
VF: That’s an interesting move, going from the middle over to the wing. Is he utilized more as a powerplay guy or a penalty killer?
UB: Powerplay guy, for sure.
VF: Tell us a bit about the guys that play on his line.
UB: Patrik Berglund of the St. Louis Blues is a big, scoring center with a great shot. Mikael Frycklund is the other winger on that line. He’s just 19 years old and is probably living is dream right now, playing on a line with two NHL’ers.
VF: Is he the kind of player that benefits from the guys he plays with, or does he elevate the game of his linemates?
UB: I’d say that he has elevated Berglund’s game. Berglund came over much earlier than Backlund and has played five games more. He had trouble scoring initially, but ever since Backlund caught fire, the pucks seem to go in for him as well. Backlund has 19 points after ten games and is fifth in the league in scoring. Berglund is 13th with 16 points.
VF: Last year there was concern over Backlund’s game. He wasn’t scoring and even seemed tentative to shoot the puck, leaving him with 4.7 shooting percentage. There were obviously serious confidence issues. As you mentioned, this year he is 2nd in team scoring and 5th in the league after only 10 games, he has to feel somewhat rejuvenated, if a 23 year needs rejuvenation? Talk about, in your opinion, what effect this is having on his mental game.
UB: Just by looking at the way he drives to the net gives you an indication that he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. Still, he’s playing in Hockeyallsvenskan, the Swedish equivalent to the AHL, so you can’t draw too many conclusions about how the game he is playing right now would transpire to the NHL.
VF: You are very careful to remind us to remember that Backlund is playing in the Allsvenskan. Why is that?
UB: As I said earlier, it’s the AHL of Sweden (without the farm team system). You have the SEL (Swedish Elite League) which is the number one league in Sweden and then you have Hockeyallsvenskan. Teams in Hockeyallsvenskan strive for qualification to the SEL, while the teams that are in the bottom of the standings in the SEL strive to avoid relegation to Hockeyallsvenskan.
VF: Do you think there is a correlation in Backlund’s early success and the fact that, to a degree, he may be under less pressure by playing in Sweden’s 2nd tier league rather than the SEL?
UB: To some degree, I’ve got to think so. The game is very different from the NHL and especially the defencemen that he is playing against are softer. Still, he’s producing almost two points per game, which is more than anyone else in that league is producing, including Kopitar and the other NHL players.
VF: After multiple surgeries on his hand, he never seemed to be comfortable shooting last season. How does his shot and stick-work in general look this year?
UB: Great. He has been scoring some really beautiful goals lately, some of them by using that great shot he has.
VF: Not to put you on the spot, but in your opinion how close would Backlund’s numbers look to his current stats, if he was playing for the Flames in the NHL?
UB: Oh boy, tha’t’s a tough one. I don’t think he would become a high scoring NHL player right away. Depending on which role the Flames were to give him, I’d say he could probably score 15-20 goals, 30-35 points this year. But it all depends on which role and how much ice time he would be given.
VF: In Calgary, Mikael is used more in a defensive role. Most of his zone starts are in Flames end and against the opposition’s scoring lines. By your estimation and from what you have seen, do the Calgary Flames utilize Mikael Backlund in the right way? If so, why?
UB: Mikael Backlund has always been at his best when he is used as an offensive player in a top six role. I don’t think he’ll ever be a good shutdown center or a great penalty killer. He will always be a better player with the puck than without.
VF: Final question for you Uffe. There is a wide range of opinions when it comes to the future of Mikael Backlund and the Calgary Flames. Where would you put Mike’s ceiling based on what you have seen following his career?
UB: If he could find more balance in his game, and by that I mean even out the range between his ups and downs, I could see him become a 20-25 goal scorer in the league. But I’d like to see him against tougher opponents than the ones he’s been facing this season before I say anything more. This week, he’s playing with the Swedish National Team in Karjala Tournament in Finland. He’ll face a lot of good NHL players there. That will probably give us a clue of how good he really is at the moment.
… I want to take this moment to thank Uffe for agreeing to do this. It was a pleasure chatting back and forth and I appreciate him taking the time to join us here on Flames Nation. I look forward to being able to do this again sometime.
You can follow Uffe Bodin here on Twitter.