Mikael Backlund is one of the most consistent two-way shutdown centres in the NHL, so how does he compare with others drafted in 2007, the year he was selected 24th overall in the first round by the Calgary Flames?
Tasked with silencing the league’s best forwards, Backlund has matured considerably, growing into a dependable player whose stock has risen gradually over recent seasons. Renowned for an extraordinary ability to frustrate opposing first-line centres without being excessively physical, Backlund’s positional play and hockey intelligence place him in elite company.
More impressively, Backlund, since his NHL debut in 2008-09, has plied his trade with only one team, showing the kind of loyalty and devotion to a city rarely seen in the modern era.
Ranking Backlund Among Other 2007 First-Rounders
So how does he rank in comparison to others selected in the first round of the 2007 Entry Draft? If you don’t have an elephant’s memory, you’ll probably need reminding of what company Backlund kept over 12 years ago. Patrick Kane was selected first overall, a pick the Chicago Blackhawks will forever be euphoric about.
Philadelphia then selected James Van Riemsdyk, with Phoenix rounding out the top three by picking Kyle Turris. While decent players, neither the second or third pick, based on over a decade of NHL experience, have lived up to the initial hype. In retrospect, Phoenix would have almost certainly selected Backlund had they known what they do today.
Jakub Voracek, drafted seventh overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Logan Couture, picked ninth by San Jose, and Max Pacioretty, taken 22nd by Montreal, are the only others who, in hindsight, should have been selected before Backlund. Others picked earlier than Backlund, all of whom have perennially disappointed, include Thomas Hickey (fourth), Karl Alzner (fifth), Zach Hamill (eighth), Keaton Ellerby (10th), Brandon Sutter (11th), Alex Plante (15th), Colton Gillies (16th), Alexei Cherepanov (17th), Ian Cole (18th), Logan MacMillan (19th), Angelo Esposito (20th), Riley Nash (21st) and Jonathon Blume (23rd).
You’re not alone if you’re wondering who many of the aforementioned are, or what happened to them. Google them, though. It’s worth a chuckle.
Those Deserving of Being Picked Ahead of Backlund
1. Patrick Kane
A three-time Stanley Cup winner, Patrick Kane has accomplished more than most dream of since joining the Blackhawks in 2007. Kane won the Conn Smythe in 2013, the Hart and Art Ross in 2015-16.
The first American-born player to win both the Hart and Art Ross, Kane’s illustrious career will ensure a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame is set aside for him when he decides to hang up the skates.
7. Jakub Voracek
It took a while to cement himself as an elite player, but Jakub Voracek in recent seasons has exploded offensively, scoring almost a point per game since joining the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012-13. A brief stint in the Kontinental Hockey League before joining the Flyers served the 30-year-old well. Voracek made his first and only all-star appearance in 2015. Like Backlund, Voracek has limited post-season success, the Czech making it past the first round just once with the Flyers in eight seasons.
9. Logan Couture
Besides Kane, Logan Couture was the undisputed pick of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The 30-year-old Canadian saves his best hockey for when it matters most, the playoffs. Scoring 101 points in 116 playoff games, Mr. Clutch takes matters into his own hands in the most pivotal games. Couture, on the San Jose Sharks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015-16, notched 30 points in 24 games and was unlucky not to have lifted Lord Stanley.
A certain Sidney Crosby denied Couture the chance to sip from the coveted trophy. Couture almost single-handedly took the Sharks to the brink of another finals visit last season, when he scored 14 goals and 20 points in as many games.
22. Max Pacioretty
With 488 points in 692 regular-season games, Max Pacioretty’s place on this list isn’t unequivocal. The determining factor in justifying his place above Backlund, though, is the leadership role he played in Montreal. The 30-year-old captained the Canadiens in his last three seasons there, scoring at least 30 goals in three of his last five seasons with the Habs. Pacioretty enjoyed nine fairly fruitful seasons with Montreal before being traded, after a final season steeped in controversy, to the Vegas Golden Knights where he scored 22 goals in 66 games. Another player from that draft season with limited playoff success, Pacioretty made it past the first round twice with the Canadiens, one of which, in 2013-14, took him to the Conference Final where they lost in six games to the New York Rangers.
Backlund’s Importance to the Flames
Looking back on the 2007 draft makes what Backlund has accomplished with the Calgary Flames all the more impressive. The shutdown centre complements Matthew Tkachuk wonderfully, providing his linemate with more freedom and a licence to create offensively.
While his primary responsibility is to thwart opposing first lines, Backlund is certainly no slouch in the offensive zone. The 30-year-old centre, scoring 320 points in 620 regular-season games, puts up more than a point every two games, an output that increases with each season. Skillful and blessed with a crafty set of hands, Backlund has the ability to turn on the flair, too.
However, to be thought of in the same elite sphere as Couture, the onus is on the Swede to perform in the playoffs, something many of his teammates can relate to. Backlund has only once made it past the first round of the playoffs, when the Flames, in 2104-15, ousted Vancouver in six games. Anaheim had their way with Calgary in the subsequent round, knocking the Flames out in five. Backlund has eight points in 20 playoff games over an 11-season stretch with the Flames, the glaring hamstringing facet of an otherwise measuredly successful career.
With almost five years remaining on his contract, the Flames will look for Backlund to continually gain prominence as one of the NHL’s best two-way centres. In relation to most of his counterparts in the first round of the 2007 NHL, Backlund is clearly dominating most of the field. However, when looking back on his career, Backlund won’t reference how well he performed in comparison to others selected in the first round of the 2007 draft as a barometer of success.
Like every NHLer, he’ll look to how many times his name was etched on Lord Stanley as a true indicator of success, though being the cream of the crop in your respective entry draft is still an accolade Backlund should be proud of.