The Washington Capitals will host a press conference on Monday to introduce the number four overall draft-pick from the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Nicklas Backstrom. He will be making his first appearance in front of the Washington press at noon at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Virginia.
Backstrom just finished playing at the World Championship tournament in Moscow. He tallied six points (1 goal, 5 assists) in nine games for Sweden. It would normally be pretty remarkable that he was even there, considering that he was young enough to play in the World Junior Championships this year as well; but it's old hat for Nicklas, he did it last year too.
He was a force at this year's Junior Championships with seven points in six games. His four goals were tops for Sweden and third best in the tournament. He has represented his country four times in the last two seasons, and at just nineteen years old, he's already proving that he can play with the game's best.
The young Swede has been playing his club hockey for Brynas of the Swedish Elite League. He was the league's Rookie-of-the-Year in 2005/6 after scoring 10 goals and 26 points in 46 games. He was also named to the All-Star team.
In 2006/7, he was able to better all of his rookie-of-the-year totals. Playing 45 games, he led Brynas in both points with 40, and in assists with 28. He also added three goals, and three assists in seven playoff games.
He's been a great play-maker at every level that he has played. Can he do it at the NHL level?
Washington is hoping that he can - and sooner than later. The Capitals need some front-line talent, and though Backstrom may be eased into the line-up in a less grandiose manner, he will surely be given every opportunity to make a meaningful contribution.
While Caps fans will undoubtedly yearn for a line of Backstrom and the two Alexes, it seems a little soon. Ideally the Capitals will add a big-name center in the off season to lighten the pressure on the kid. It seems to make a lot more sense to go after someone that can undoubtedly center the first line next season, with all of the cap money that Washington has to spend.
Washington needs more than just one line, and how the pieces of the puzzle fit together will depend greatly on free agency. If they can pick up a quality center, they can put him with Ovechkin on the left wing and Chris Clark on the right. That leaves Backstrom to play on the second line with Alexander Semin and potentially give the Caps a real one, two punch.
It was just too easy to defend the Capitals' top line and nothing else last season. To truly complete, Washington need to be able to roll at least two lines that can be counted on for constant offensive production. Backstrom will get a little less ice-time on the second line, but he will likely see much better match-ups. There will be a little less pressure and scrutiny, though the proverbial microscope will be out the moment he hits an NHL ice pad.
Obviously his skill could eventually make him a fixture on the power play. If he's playing well enough to have earned a spot on the roster, then Caps fans may very well get to see a line of Backstrom and the two Alexes when they have the man-advantage. After all, confidence is both so important, and so fragile in a young player, that putting him in positions where he can be successful is paramount for a healthy start to his career.
Perhaps Backstrom won't be ready to contribute very much at all next season. He is after all, not even twenty years old. It's easy to forget how some young players initially struggle to adjust to the size and speed of the big leagues, when guys like Ovechkin, Jordan Stahl, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin are lighting up goal lights across the nation before their twenty-first birthdays. Check Daniele Briere's profile out, if you want to look at how important it can be to understand that some players just take a little longer to find their place.
One thing is for sure - expectations seem to be lofty. Not just because of Backstrom's considerable talent, but because of the Capitals' even more considerable need for talent. Nicklas will throw out the opening pitch for the Washington Nationals on Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles, before he's ever even stepped onto the ice at the Verizon Center.
Good luck kid. There are apparently a lot of people hoping that you're ready to go.