Swedish experience gave Backlund valuable ice-time
Flames youngster took a step forward in his development, now we see if it pays off in the NHL
Suffering from jet-lag and exhaustion from being awake for 24 hours, Mikael Backlund arrived safe and sound at WinSport on Thursday morning.
It was his first skate in North America since returning from Sweden where he was waiting out the National Hockey League lockout and staying in game shape with his hometown club Vasteras.
“I felt good,” Backlund said, out of breath following another hard skate lead by the University of Calgary Dinos coaching staff. “I got to play 20 and 30 minutes (a game) so that was great. I played in every situation, every second shift pretty much. So it was a lot of fun and good for me to get a lot of responsibility and to be able to handle that and take leadership and get the guys going.”
Overseas he played on the wing, which, as a natural centreman, took some adjusting. However, competing with Vasteras in the Allsvenskan — one notch below the Swedish elite league — Backlund netted 12 goals and 30 points in 23 games and earned the praise of the Flames’ brass at home following his progress.
Backlund, who signed a one-year contract worth $725,000 US, said he was focused on getting better — which was exactly what he needed following an injury-riddled 2011-12 NHL campaign that saw him dress for only 41 dates.
Prior to his games in Sweden, he hadn’t played since hurting his shoulder in a mid-season fight with Andrew Alberts of the Vancouver Canucks.
“I tried to work on my game off the ice mentally and on the ice, too, mentally and physically,” Backlund said. “I feel like I improved. I’m going to do all I can to get better and get my game going over here too.”
Proving himself starts immediately as he’ll be battling as soon in training camp. Backlund is pencilled in to compete against fellow centremen Matt Stajan, Blair Jones, Roman Horak, Ben Street, and (depending on his status) Roman Cervenka. However on Thursday he didn’t rule out playing wing — if the Flames request it.
At any rate, Backlund is happy to be home.
Staying up-to-date with the news, he was in close contact with Brendan Mikkelson who informed him the deal between the NHLPA and NHL was getting closer to completion.
“We were really happy to hear it,” Backlund said. “I’m excited to come back. I had a great time in Sweden, it was a lot of fun.
“I was thankful to get the chance to play in front of my family, but this is where I belong and where I want to be and where I want my future.”
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