Above the jersey was a nameplate, reading “N. BACKSTROM” and decorated with club and NHL logos. All of the other lockers were empty: no jerseys, no nameplates. Expect more to come, though.
The 19-year-old centre, the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, represents the first major addition of what the team promises will be a busy off-season.
“We’ve got lots of work to do. We have a real good young core. We have some good veterans. But we need to add some more to really make the team better than it is,” general manager George McPhee said. “And we’ll be aggressive this summer.”
The Capitals finished with 70 points and ranked 27th in the 30-team NHL each of the past two seasons, and owner Ted Leonsis has vowed to improve.
Leonsis mentioned bringing aboard another centre, adding defencemen and perhaps adding a wing, promising “a significant amount of change – and hopefully upgrade.”
That sounds good to longtime Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig, who has spent his 15 NHL seasons with Washington.
“I would like them obviously to bring in some veteran talent,” said the 37-year-old Kolzig, who added he’d like to play three more seasons. “We need some depth in the organization, there’s no question.”
Backstrom, listed at six feet and 183 pounds, gives Washington a young forward to possibly pair with its two Russian wings, 2005-06 rookie of the year Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.
“This is another part of our rebuilding plan,” Leonsis said. “He is another part of the foundation of the new core of the Washington Capitals.”
After a year of extra seasoning in his native Sweden, Backstrom considers himself ready for the NHL. So do the Capitals.
Instead of joining Washington right away after being drafted, he opted to play a third season for his Swedish club, Brynas. Backstrom recorded his best statistics in 2006-07, with 12 goals and 28 assists in 45 games.
Does he have targets for the types of numbers he hopes to produce in the NHL?
“We’ll see what happens,” Backstrom said, smiling.
He said he thinks the more physical style of play here will require the biggest adjustment. And he has no regrets about waiting to sign with the Capitals.
“I’m a better player, and I grew also as a person, too,” Backstrom said.
Asked what his best attributes are, the teenager cited “good hockey sense” and “very good hands.”
McPhee was effusive in his praise.
“He’s a very smart player, very poised, very patient with the puck,” McPhee said. “He’s better defensively than a lot of young players are. He’s good on faceoffs. And he looks out for things in his own end. His positioning is really good. Like a lot of young players, he has to work on strength and quickness and so on to adjust to the NHL pace. But he’s a pretty good hockey player.”
Backstrom arrived in town Saturday, and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. He saw some of the sights, including the White House, threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Washington Nationals game, and attended a Washington Mystics game, too.
He was accompanied by his older brother, Kristoffer, who plays hockey for a Swedish second-division team, and their parents. Backstrom’s father, Anders, played pro hockey in Sweden and was drafted in the 10th round by the New York Rangers in 1980.
Anders Backstrom never made it over to the NHL. His son has.