Unquestionably the team’s MVP for the first half of the season, the 27-year-old Swede is centring the team’s top line, which also happens to be their stellar shut-down unit.
He spearheads the team’s penalty kill, blocks shots, leads the team in goals, power play points, short-handed points and recently added perhaps the most shocking of all his accomplishments.
With his heroic two-point effort in Wednesday’s dramatic 3-2 win over San Jose, Backlund became the team’s leading scorer.
It begs the question: is there anything Backlund can’t do?
“I’m awful at badminton,” smiled the quiet veteran, who has 12 goals and 29 points.
“Ping pong, too. Tennis, well I don’t practice enough to say for sure, but in golf I can’t seem to hit the ball straight.”
Okay, so he isn’t perfect.
“Oh, I’m also a bad loser at cards. Me and my family – we get into some big fights when it comes to cards. Board games too.”
In the game of life, the man they call “Backs” is winning big these days.
So much so, that it’s time for Backlund to be included in the Selke Trophy discussion, as the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.
“I think this year he should be mentioned with some of the top two-way centres in the league,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano, unsolicited.
“He’s been that good. He’s been playing against the best players in the league night in and night out. And he’s doing it at both ends of the ice.
“There’s one thing he struggles with though, his jokes and chirps are awful. He’s terrible at that.”
A first-round pick (24th overall) in 2007, who took many years to develop, Backlund has been the Flames best two-way player for several years now.
However, to win a Selke, you need to attract the attention of voters by putting up a reasonable amount of points, which Backlund is now doing alongside Michael Frolik and rookie sensation Matthew Tkachuk. On a team with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, it’s Backlund’s “Three-M” Line that was not only the team’s best trio through the club’s woeful 5-10-1 start, but is also the driver behind their 18-9-1 surge that has the team in a wild card spot.
“I don’t think that you can say anyone on our team has been more consistent than Backs this season,” said first-year Flames coach Glen Gulutzan, who admitted he didn’t know much about Backlund until he asked the Sedins for a scouting report while working as an assistant coach with the Canucks.
“Backs has been our most reliable and consistent player all year long,” added Troy Brouwer.
“He lugs a lot of tough minutes with defensive zone draws, wins faceoffs and plays on the penalty kill. That stuff gets overlooked.”
No longer, thanks to a scoring binge that surprisingly has him amongst the NHL’s top ten goal scorers since the start of 2017. A late surge last year gave him 21 goals, helping him secure an invite to play with Team Sweden at the World Cup, where a concussion caused by a hit from Sami Lepisto ended his tournament early.
Three of his 12 goals this year are game-winners and in Wednesday’s win, his line generated all three goals to slay their division leader.
“I see it as the best start to a season I’ve ever had, as I haven’t had the best starts in past years,” said Backlund, a surprising contributor to the power play with a team-high ten points.
“I think I have found a new high level in terms of consistency. Every guy has a bad game every once in awhile, but my bad games aren’t as bad as they used to be.”
This level of consistency is what’s helping Backlund garner Selke talk for the first time in his career.
“That would be a big time honour – a dream to win an award,” beamed the native of Vasteras, Sweden.
“When I was a little boy, I dreamed of winning the Stanley Cup, the Hart or a scoring title, but growing up into the player I am, the Selke is an award for players I look up to. (Patrice) Bergeron, (Anze) Kopitar, (Jonathan) Toews, and (Pavel) Datsyuk. I take a lot of pride being that type of player and being in those discussions.”
No longer is he considered the team’s third-line centre, as he was pegged several months back, behind Monahan and Sam Bennett. His line is so good that Tkachuk is just two points back of Backlund for the scoring lead and Frolik trails by just four.
“You need those guys – those 26, 27 and 28-year-old pros that we have in him (Backlund) and Fro – that do everything methodically every single day,” said Gulutzan.
“Over the years, great pros become consistent and now you can see it in his play. He’s been fantastic.”
He’s been, well, shocking really.
“I had a chat before the season with the Sedins and they told me he was a good player, but when I came here he was probably the one guy who has surprised me the most,” said Gulutzan.
“His two-way game and his consistency – he’s been a real pleasure, a real pro. That’s our best line. They play against the toughest lines and they keep doing their thing. They do everything right – the way they forecheck, the way they play the system. They’re tattooed all over the video every game.”
And the media is now tattooed all over the soft-spoken Backlund, prompting some teasing prods from Dougie Hamilton during a recent scrum.
“He’s okay,” deadpanned Backlund when asked about his teammate within earshot.
“I wish I would get a flat pass from him one night.”
Even his chirping is improving.