The Calgary Flames have had players celebrating a bunch of milestones over the 2018-19 season. But Friday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks features players commemorating a trio of milestones.
Mikael Backlund’s 600th NHL game
It’s been a long road for Backlund. The Flames’ first round pick in 2007 – selected with a pick the St. Louis Blues got from the Atlanta Thrashers in the Keith Tkachuk trade – spent time in Sweden, the Western Hockey League and the American Hockey League before becoming a bonafide NHL regular in the 2010-11 season.
Backlund debuted in a unique circumstance, playing on an emergency recall on Jan. 8, 2009 following Sweden capturing a silver medal at the World Juniors in Ottawa. He played on a line with Eric Nystrom and Andre Roy in a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders, then was sent to WHL’s Kelowna Rockets to finish out the season. (He ended up winning a WHL championship that season.)
The only player on the Flames roster left over from Backlund’s debut is Mark Giordano. Backlund is ninth in franchise history in games played, and only four Flames-drafted players have spent more time with the franchise: Al MacInnis, Theo Fleury, Jim Peplinski and Gary Suter. He’s likely to pass Suter before the end of this season.
An exemplar of patience in player development who didn’t really become what he is now until the 2013-14 season, Backlund has turned into one of the team’s most important players. He’s earned praise for his conduct on the ice, but also for being a mentor to young Flames forwards like Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett.
Sam Bennett and Noah Hanifin’s 300th NHL games
Two other Flames will hit big games-played marks. Bennett and Noah Hanifin both celebrate their 300th contest.
The Flames’ first rounder in 2014, Bennett has worked through shoulder issues (in the year following his drafting) and some uncertain roles before really finding some consistency this season. Bennett’s embraced his physicality more this season than in the past and has managed to chip in offensively, too. He might not be the player that his fourth overall selection might suggest he should be, and he might never become that, but he’s been effective depth for the team.
The Hurricanes’ first rounder in 2015, Hanifin came over to the Flames in the Dougie Hamiton trade. Still just 22 years old, he’s playing top four minutes for the Flames. He’s benefited from the mentorship of defensive partner Travis Hamonic – especially in the defensive zone – but he’s also been a steady contributor and shown some flashes of a player that could eventually challenge Mark Giordano for top minutes on the left side.