The Calgary Flames’ great Swedish stabilizer, Mikael Backlund reaches 900 games on Saturday
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike8 months ago
The Calgary Flames selected centre Mikael Backlund in the first round of the 2007 NHL Draft. Backlund’s path to the National Hockey League had a few bumps in it, but over the course of the past 16 years, he’s become not only an NHL regular, but arguably the Flames’ most important forward.
Backlund plays his 900th career NHL game on Saturday afternoon when the Flames host the San Jose Sharks.
A product of Vasteras, Sweden, Backlund was a junior star for his hometown team and started playing pro hockey in his 16-year-old season. After his selection by the Flames in 2007 and his signing to an entry-level deal, there was friction with Vasteras’ sport director over his progression, which led to public threats of releasing Backlund if his game didn’t turn around. The Flames terminated his loan agreement and sent him to the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets instead.
After a one-game NHL appetizer in 2008-09, Backlund became a full-time North American pro in 2009-10 and became a full-time NHLer in 2010-11. Initially struggling to stay consistently healthy – it was often joked that he had the worst injury luck, as he constantly got hurt in weird situations – he found his stride as an NHLer following a brief return to Sweden during the 2012-13 NHL lockout.
Backlund’s been an alternate captain with the Flames since 2018-19. He’s the third Flame to ever player 900 games with the club, and the first homegrown draft choice to do so. In NHL history, he’s just the 31st player to reach 900 games. (If he plays another 100, he’ll be the 17th player to reach 1,000.)
Here’s a quick breakdown of Backlund’s statistical box-cars per 100-game segment:
While Backlund’s offensive output has been consistent (albeit modest) throughout his career, the most enduring element of his game has been his two-way play. Since roughly 2013, Backlund has been leaned on heavily as the team’s shutdown ace. In that role, he’s received Selke Trophy votes in five of the past six seasons – he finished fourth in Selke balloting in 2016-17.
In his role, Backlund is the great stabilizing presence for the Flames’ forward group. When his line is “on,” and they often are, they negate the other team’s top players and give the Flames a chance at success. Backlund may not have been the Flames’ best player during his tenure – he’s overlapped with the likes of Jarome Iginla, Mark Giordano, Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau – but the nature of his role and his success in it may have made him the club’s most important player.
In a 2022-23 season that’s often been disappointing and frustrating for the Flames and their fans, it’s worth noting Backlund’s strong play. Not only has he remained a consistent shutdown ace for the club, but he’s quietly producing quite a bit of offence in his role. Like a fine wine, Backlund seems to be getting even better with age.
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