Best Centers in the League? Time to Start Mentioning Nicklas Backstrom.

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By picking up an assist in the Capitals’ loss against Florida, Nicklas Backstrom now has points in 10 straight. Backstrom is now one point shy of tying last season’s point total of 69 with 18 games remaining. Yet it seems as though the cream of the crop at center is still Crosby, Datsyuk, Malkin, and Thornton. While Nick might not even be one of the two (or three) best players on his team, he’s definitely a top center in the NHL and should start getting recognized for it.

In the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the Caps held 10 picks, the earliest being the fourth overall. Washington almost passed up the opportunity to draft Backstrom and trade the pick to Boston (Boston offered the 5th and 37th picks for the 4th overall pick), but General Manager George McPhee kept the selection and it has worked out so far.

“Yeah we liked him [Backstrom] all along and we kept hoping that he’d be there when we were going to pick,” McPhee said. “And we were pretty confident that he would be. We think he’s an elite play-making center, and they’re hard to come by in this league. He’s got great poise, good hockey strength, and we think he’s ready to play now.”

Now in his sophomore season, Backstrom made a late run at the Calder trophy last year, eventually being named runner-up to Jonathan Toews. But with Alex Ovechkin contending for the Hart Trophy and Mike Green contending for the Norris Trophy, could Nick get the ‘hat trick’ of trophies for Washington and contend for the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward? One writer thinks so.

Coming up fast, however, is sophomore center Nicklas Backstrom, who might be in line for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward. Entering the weekend, not only was he tied for ninth in the League with 66 points, but he ranked third with 62 takeaways.

Selke Trophy talk might be a little premature for the 21-year old Backstrom. With the exception of John Madden, the past eight Selke winners have played at least six seasons and are an average of 32.6 years old at the time of receiving the award. But winning awards is the last thing on the young Swede’s mind who insists that not much has changed about his game.

Backstrom Stats

“I don’t know,” he said. “When I have an opportunity to shoot, I shoot it. Some games I have more opportunities to shoot than other games, but I can’t tell you what’s changed lately. I have to shoot more though. That’s something I’ve been working on.”

You won’t hear Don Cherry mentioning Nicky B and ‘celebrations’ in the same sentence; Backstrom is calm, cool, and collected at all times on the ice. While Ovi is jumping around after every goal (and I say that in the best possible way), Backstrom’s post-goal celebration usually consists of pointing to the player who picked up the primary assist and skating together for the group hug. While teams will continue to focus on stopping threats like Alex Semin, Green, and Ovechkin, Backstrom will continue to fly under the radar and be the catalyst for the Caps offense.

10 thoughts on “Best Centers in the League? Time to Start Mentioning Nicklas Backstrom.”

  1. Backstrom definitely top 20, top 5 is stretching it. But to see how he plays on the Capitals shows you that he’s in the right mix of guys and through it all it’s not him just benefitting from playing with Ovechkin, Green, or Semin, this kid’s got serious talent.

  2. Respect on the JMU shout out. I’m transferring there and will begin school in the summer semester…

    Backstrom and Toews are only sophomores and they’ll be good for a long time (although they are different players).

    As for Semin, Caps fans are convinced that if he’s healthy, he can score 50 goals a year. But he gets knocked around and the Verizon Center ice isn’t helping him stay off the injured list. It seems as though his 38 goals in 2007 was shadowed by Ovechkin’s presence on the Caps that year and people are just starting to recognize him as deadly scoring threat.

  3. Richards was a reach but it’s hard to argue with the rest. Spezza doesn’t play in his own end so I’ll give you him too. Personally, I really like Backstrom. His future looks bright. The player that continues to amaze me on the Caps is Semin.

    Unrelated- my sister graduated from JMU in 2006. Beautiful school.

  4. To borrow Brad’s list
    Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Getzlaf, Anze Kopitar, Brad Richards, Jason Spezza, Eric Staal, Paul Stastny, Joe Thornton, Jonathan Toews, etc.

    I think Backstrom fits into this group, the best centers, and personally I would put him nearer the top that the bottom – definitely ahead of Spezza & Richards

  5. Just looking at points, Backstrom has got more than half of the players you just mentioned. And Brad Richards mentioned with all those guys? Com’on the dude has got one season (out of eight) where he’s got over 80 points.

  6. Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Getzlaf, Anze Kopitar, Brad Richards, Jason Spezza, Eric Staal, Paul Stastny, Joe Thornton, Jonathan Toews, etc.

  7. It says here you’re right about Backstrom being a great center:

    While top-5 may be a stretch, Backstrom is 7th among centers in points, 4th at the position in assists and tied for first in power play goals. All that makes him a very effective offensive player. He also backchecks well and maintains a positive +/- rating, meaning he is an okay defensive player.

    On the other hand, it must not take much to write for these days, if they’re trying to give the selke trophy to a guy who isn’t even one of his team’s regular penalty killers. If Backstrom is in line for a selke, the line must be around the block, and Nick must be all the way at the back, somewhere behind Laich, Steckel, Gordon, Fedorov, Bradley, Fleischmann, Fehr, Ovechkin, Semin, Kozlov and, you know, while we’re at it, Quintin Laing.

    Yes, in a few years, Backstrom may have an outside chance at the Selke, but in a few years, Ovechkin could too, since Ovechkin already kills penalties, has a higher +/- and hits harder. Selke voting tends to come down to which NHL player (or in recent years, which offensively elite NHL player) most consistently shuts down opponents’ best offensive players. Sometimes Backstrom helps out in defensive situations, but he’s still no Sergei Fedorov.

  8. Top 5 IS a stretch. There are so many good centers out there: Savard, Lecavalier, Richards, Getzlaf to name a few… Backstrom needs to work on his face-offs (45.5% this season) and needs to shoot more for the Caps. He’s also gotten a lot more physical in recent games that Caps fans have noticed and are starting to like it.

  9. Backstrom is slowly becoming a quality 2-way Center. Top five might be a stretch but he’s pretty solid.

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