When Mikael Backlund scored the third-period goal that triggered a come-from-behind victory for the Calgary Flames over the Colorado Avalanche earlier this week, it was a happy reminder: Not everything is going wrong for the Flames this season.
Yes, it was a much-needed win for a team that is, once again, frustratingly inconsistent (unless you count “fragility of state of mind” as a consistency). But for Backlund in particular, it was further evidence of the rapid maturation of a rare home-grown Flames prospect into a blossoming NHL talent.
Backlund has been one of the few birght lights in the Flames’ maddeningly unreliable forward ranks. Sure, the goal in Denver was only his third of the season (though I hasten to add that this is one more than $7-million-man Jarome Iginla), and his 5 points leave him tied for 10th in team scoring, but his offensive numbers are only a small part of this emerging story.
Backlund, at a mere 21 years of age, is becoming a role model of Sutter-style hockey – not exactly what we might have expected from a smooth-skating Swede. The Avs game showcased the complete package that Backlund is quickly becoming: He skates fast and hard, he wins battles, he backchecks aggressively, he’s committed to a defensive, team game. He’s tenacious, fearless and a pain in the ass for opponents. The fact he has a pair of good hands to toss into the equation is mere icing on the cake.
The fact that Brent Sutter is willing to entrust a 21-year-old rookie with regular penalty-killing duties is testament to Backlund’s rising star. The kid simply does a lot of things well and with passion and grit – and that has won his hard-to-please coach’s respect.
It has also finally given Sutter’s big brother, GM Darryl, someone to hang his prospect-development hat on. D. Sutter’s track record for drafting, retaining and developing talent is, frankly, disgraceful. But at least in Backlund (the Flames’ first pick, 24th overall, in the 2007 entry draft), he has a player on the roster who is living up to advance billing. In fact, in many less statistically measurable ways, he’s surpassing expectations.
Here’s a thought: Why not reward Backlund by moving him up to the first line, with Iginla? On second thought, maybe that would be rewarding Iginla. God knows Iggy could use the kind of spark and the good example the kid is providing.