NHL Draft Recap: Nicklas Backstrom
Swedish centre Nicklas Backstrom improved his draft ranking as much as anyone this past year. Before the 2005-06 season, International Scouting Services ranked him as the 15th-best forward, but Backstrom’s rapid development over the past few years had him soar to number four overall, exactly where he was taken on Draft Day by the Washington Capitals.
The 18-year-old, who played last season with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League, has been compared to Peter Forsberg, which may be a bit of stretch, but certainly gives you an idea of his potential.
Many pegged him as the most NHL-ready of all forwards in the 2006 draft, but the 6’0′, 185-pound left-handed shooting Backstrom doesn’t believe he is ready. In fact, last month he informed Washington that he planned to stay in Sweden to continue his development for another season. The prospect of having the skilled playmaker feeding pucks to Alexander Ovechkin will have to wait at least a year.
Backstrom was not only the top Swede available in the draft, but is the best prospect to come out of that country in some time. Ranked fifth by TSN, he’s a fine, balanced skater who is not only fast but has good acceleration. Backstrom is lauded for his two-way skills and passing prowess.
While the Forsberg comparisons are perhaps unfair, Backstrom won the Rookie of the Year award, leading the team in scoring with 10 goals, 16 assists and 30 PM in 46 games, despite being one of the youngest players ever in the Swedish Elite League. While Backstrom’s passing skills and good head for the game remind scouts of Forsberg, he can’t hold a candle to Forsberg in the toughness department.
Backstrom was not considered part of the first tier of prospects (which included Erik Johnson, Jonathan Toews and Phil Kessel, even though he was drafted ahead of Kessel), but Central Scouting ranked him as the top European player in the draft. ISS said that Backstrom ‘plays with intensity at all times’ and that he is a potential star.
He’s considered a top-notch penalty killer who really knows how to play the game in his own end. And considering the fact he was selected to play for Team Sweden at the last World Championship, it’s somewhat surprising that he’s opting for another year in Europe.
A slick player who was ranked No. 5 by Red Line Report, Backstrom’s ability to see the entire ice surface helped land him a spot on the top line of Brynas despite his tender age. Adding size to his frame will definitely help Backstrom adjust to the grind of the NHL once he heads over to this side of the ocean.
Backstrom turned in a solid showing the 2006 World Juniors in Vancouver, tying for sixth in scoring by potting four goals (three in one game) in six games.
Washington tried to be flexible with Backstrom, telling him that if he came over and felt that he was ‘in over his head,’ he could head back to Sweden at any time.
But Backstrom instead will return to Sweden with the hopes of developing his physical and mental skills. The goal is for him to provide to Washington much needed skill at the centre position when he returns to North American as a 20-year-old in 2007-08. That’s a model that worked well for Ovechkin and the Caps hope history repeats itself with Backstrom. They also hope Backstrom will follow the likes of Bengt Gustafsson and Calle Johnansson as Swedish players who have carved out great careers in Washington.