BOSTON - David Backes is no stranger to playing center in the National Hockey League.
The 33-year-old manned the middle of the ice for 10 seasons (2006-16) with the St. Louis Blues - not to mention his tours of duty with Team USA at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. So with center David Krejci (upper body) expected to miss this weekend's games - and potentially more - Head Coach Bruce Cassidy is turning to Backes to fill the void left by No. 46's absence.
"You play center for so long, I don't think it ever really escapes you," Backes said following Wednesday's practice.
"It's just getting back into the flow of things and trying to stay off the wall and stay out of other peoples' positions and support pucks, talk it out and be the other guys' eyes so the plays get made. We've got a couple holes with injuries and we're going to try to plug one with myself moving up a little bit and playing a different position, but that's what this league is all about - you're going to have injuries and you're going to have other places where you need help and you need guys to step up. This is an opportunity for me to do so."
Since arriving in Boston, Backes has embraced his role as a physical presence on the ice and a leader off the ice. Now presented with an opportunity to move up the lineup, the Minnesota native is excited to take on additional responsibilities.
"There's something to be said about leading a line and taking control," Backes said about his return to the center position.
"You're kind of the director of the orchestra as you got your plays being made around you. You've got to support at times, you've got to push the pace at times and be defensively responsible and play a full 200-foot game. There's a lot of pride to be taken in that and helping your team win doing the ugly things."
Video: David Backes speaks to the media
As the lineup shuffling continues due to mounting injuries, Cassidy is tasked with finding wingers that mesh with Backes' physical brand of hockey.
"I think David for the most part wants a line that fits his character, how he plays the game … straight lines, cycles, get it behind their D, possess it, wear them down," said Cassidy. "Get your chances more on abrasiveness than finesse."
During Wednesday's practice, Cassidy deployed 21-year-olds Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak on Backes' wings in a move that aims to add speed and skill to Backes' size and strength.
"I feel like they have extra peps in their step and hopefully I can put pucks far enough in front of them to keep them going and to score more goals," said Backes of playing between the young forwards. "Pasta has the ability. JD has the wheels and the finish and just needs more repetition and more opportunities. When pucks start to fall for him it's going to be another dangerous weapon to have."
After fielding several questions about playing alongside two forwards more than a decade younger than him, Backes took some time to reflect on his new status as an "old guy."
"It's funny how quickly the shoe goes on the other foot in this league," remarked Backes.
"It feels like yesterday I was coming in as a 22-year-old kid wondering how all these old guys were still doing it, and wondering if I'd ever be that old guy … I had them over for dinner and they're wondering what the heck is going on when I've got kids running around and dogs and a house to take care of and they're worried about what Xbox game is coming out next."
David Krejci, who was previously deemed "day-to-day" with an upper-body injury, was downgraded to "week-to-week" by Head Coach Bruce Cassidy on Wednesday in his post-practice press conference. The Czech centerman will not play in either of the next two home games against the Sharks and Kings, and will be reevaluated after this weekend.
Miller Cleared For Contact
Defenseman Kevan Miller tossed aside the burgundy non-contact jersey that he's donned the last two days of practice and traded it in for a classic black practice sweater Wednesday morning. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound blueliner is "progressing well" according to Cassidy and appears ready to suit up for Thursday's game barring any setbacks.
"It feels good," Miller told reporters following Wednesday's skate. "It's been a few days of progress now, so I think this is one day closer to being ready for tomorrow."
Video: Kevan Miller speaks to the media
Known primarily for his grit and toughness, the Los Angeles native has put his versatility on display this season, as injuries have required him to play both the left and right side, as well as with different defense partners on a nightly basis. Despite the lack of continuity, Miller has proven to be a stabilizing, physical force on the Bruins back end, as he leads the team with 21 hits and 11 blocked shots.
"At this point I've played with pretty much everybody," said Miller. "We all know each others' tendencies out there and I'm looking forward to just hopefully getting the opportunity to play."
Goaltender Tuukka Rask was a full participant in practice for the second consecutive day, and Cassidy told reporters that things are looking "positive" for the B's netminder's availability for Thursday's game against the Sharks.
"Tuukka is continuing in the protocol and doing well so tomorrow morning he'll get looked at," said Cassidy. "If it's all systems go then we'll know tomorrow whether he gets cleared."
Video: Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy speaks to the media