CALGARY — After putting up 10 points in 23 games with the Calgary Flames last season, Mikael Backlund has his sights set on making a much bigger impact this year.
With centre Matt Stajan out indefinitely due to a shoulder separation, Backlund has moved higher up the depth chart and is excited about making the most of his opportunity.
“You never want to see a teammate go down and be injured,” Backlund said. “Hopefully he’ll be back soon. It happened and we’ve got to look forward now. For me, of course it looks better.
“I get more opportunities now and I’m just going to go out and play like I did before, just work hard.”
At practice on Thursday, Backlund was on a line with Rene Bourque and prospect Jon Rheault. The latter was filling in for Niklas Hagman, who missed his second straight practice with what the club called “general maintenance.”
Backlund, a 21-year-old Swede, was selected by the Flames with the 24th overall pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft.
Calgary coach Brent Sutter said Backlund has to keep playing his style of game and build off of that.
“He’s a young kid,” Sutter said. “You can’t force it with him. He’s got to find his way and we’ll help him through that. He just needs to keep playing like he’s playing.”
Sutter added that Backlund is a well-rounded player.
“I think he showed last year when he came in and played here,” he said. “He didn’t look out of place at all and he got thrown into some key situations and key spots. That’s going to be no different for him right now at this point in time.”
Backlund scored a short-handed goal Tuesday as the Flames edged the visiting Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in pre-season play.
“You always want to hear coaches say good things about you, positive stuff,” Backlund said. “It feels good that they’re confident in me and that helps me be more confident as a player too.”
Backlund had 32 points (15-17) in 54 games last season with the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League. He has been trying to improve his defensive play as he tries to cement a permanent spot in the NHL.
“I know they want all the centres to be two-way centres,” he said. “And I’ve been working on it for a couple of years, being really responsible in the defensive zone, especially last year in the minors.
“I worked a lot on it and when I was up here too in the NHL. I feel a lot more confident and better in the defensive zone.”
As for Stajan, he’s doesn’t like the fact that he’s been forced off the ice.
“Other than an eye injury, a freak eye injury I had a few years back, I haven’t missed any time so this is new for me and it’s not fun,” said Stajan. “It’s been two days and I already want to get back at it.”
Stajan was looking forward to his first full season with the Flames after being acquired from Toronto on Feb. 1 in a blockbuster deal that sent defenceman Dion Phaneuf to the Leafs.
Referring to his injury as a “bit of a setback,” Stajan said he’s trying to maintain a positive outlook.
“I’ll make sure I do everything I can to stay in shape and get on the ice as soon as I can and hopefully hop right back into it,” he said. “There’s not any other word to describe it but frustrating. I’ll have to deal with it.”
With Daymond Langkow also out of Calgary’s lineup due to the lingering effects of a neck injury he sustained last season, David Moss has also been playing at centre during training camp with Curtis Glencross and Ales Kotalik as his wingers.
“He got put into a wing spot here when he came to the Flames, but he played centre ice through college,” explained Sutter. “It’s his natural position. We’ll see how it unfolds. It’s an experiment right now, but it’s certainly worth trying.”
For Moss, returning to his natural position is like riding a bike.
“It’s just an opportunity for me to maybe have a bigger role playing down the middle,” he said. “I guess you can never have enough guys who can play the middle especially when injuries happen.”
Calgary’s pre-season schedule will continue with home games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday. The Flames will travel to Saskatoon on Wednesday to face the New York Islanders.