CALGARY – Fresh off winning a silver medal with Sweden at the world junior hockey championship, Calgary Flames first-round draft pick Mikael Backlund has decided to stay in North America.
“I’m going to play here the rest of the season,” the 19-year-old centre said Tuesday night from the Pengrowth Saddledome, where he attended the Calgary-San Jose game as a guest of Flames GM Darryl Sutter.
“I don’t really know where I’m going to play, it’s up to Darryl Sutter to decide. I’m going to be here for some days and just relaxing and taking it easy and then Darryl will decide where I’m going to play.”
The two likely destinations are the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League, who hold Backlund’s rights, and the Flames’ American Hockey League affiliate in Quad Cities.
Speculation is that Backlund will probably end up in Kelowna. Either way, he’s looking forward to continuing his development in North America.
“I’m really excited to be here, it’s going to be fun,” said Backlund. “When I know what team it’s going to be, I’m just going to go out and have fun and play hockey almost every day. It will be a good experience for me to be here.”
Backlund says the biggest change for him, as it is for most Europeans, will be adjusting to the smaller North American rink size.
“Here it gets more intense, there are more hits,” Backlund said.
Kelowna secured his rights after selecting him 43rd overall in the 2007 CHL Import Draft.
Standing six-foot-one and 190 pounds, Backlund attended training camp this year with the Flames, who drafted him 24th overall in 2007. Although he was touted before camp began as someone that could break camp with the big team, that talk trickled off as camp wore on and he was eventually cut and returned to Sweden.
With Vasteras in the second division of the Swedish Elite League, Backlund has been relegated to a third-line role where he was not happy.
“I don’t know why things didn’t work out. I had some really good games while some games weren’t that good,” said Backlund. “I just felt I had to get a fresh start for my career.
He had four goals and four assists in 17 games with Vasteras.
Backlund says the decision to stay in North America was made Monday and although it is a decision he agreed with, the decision was ultimately made by the Flames.
“I’m glad Calgary wants me to play here, this is a good opportunity for me,” said Backlund.
Backlund gave no timeline on when a decision would be made. However, Kelowna would have to sign him by Saturday’s WHL trade deadline.
Backlund scored a pair of goals in Sweden’s 5-3 semifinal victory over Slovakia that earned them a spot in the gold-medal game against Canada, which they lost 5-1. Backlund finished the tournament with five goals and two assists in six games.
“I really wanted to have the gold medal and I was really sad after the game. It was tough not to win it but Canada was good yesterday,” Backlund said.