Nicklas Backstrom recorded his 600th-career assist in Vancouver on Oct. 22, as he slid the puck to center ice on a power play, initiating a sequence of scoring opportunities that ended with an Alex Ovechkin goal from the left circle. It's among the most recognizable plays in hockey, incomplete without one of the NHL's most prolific passers.
Backstrom became the first player in Capitals franchise history, and the 87th player in NHL history, to reach 600 assists. First in his draft class (2006) to hit the mark, Backstrom ranks first in the NHL in assists (603) and fifth in points (815) since entering the league in 2007-08. He also leads in power-play assists (273) and ranks second in points on the man-advantage (340), trailing only Ovechkin (356).
A quarterback on the ice, Backstrom's known around the NHL for his vision and patience, his ability to sling pucks in tight spaces and create opportunities. But inside the Capitals locker room, the alternate captain is admired for more than just his hockey skills.
Before Wednesday night's game against the Penguins - where the Capitals and the NHL will hold a ceremony at the Capital One Arena to honor Backstrom's 600th-career assist - teammates spoke about the 12th-year Capital's quiet confidence and steady leadership.
Alex Ovechkin: "It's been a pleasure for me to play with a player like him. I always appreciate him. Everyone knows his skills as a player, but I've seen him grow up as a person. We finally reached our goal in getting a Cup, but 600 … that's a pretty big number."
Braden Holtby: "He's who you think of when you think about the elite hockey player. Good leader, quiet, humble, shows up every night. He's still underrated [publicly] but we know his elite skill. Defensively, he's always one of our best players. Offensively, he's phenomenal - 600 assists. He's just one of those guys you tell kids to be like."
Evgeny Kuznetsov: "He's an unbelievable guy. He's not going to teach you a lot with words, but I don't think he has to, because you can just follow him on the ice, follow him off the ice, see what he's done and learn from that."
Some Capitals players had watched Backstrom from afar as members of other teams. They always respected the player, which made them appreciate his demeanor and character even more upon becoming teammates.
T.J. Oshie: "His on ice stuff speaks for itself, but behind the scenes, what you don't see, is how good of a guy he is and how much he cares about his teammates. To never see a guy come to the bench and smack a stick against the board, or to never tell a teammate to play better, is pretty amazing. He's about as level-headed and calm as you'll find. It's been an honor to step in here and play on his line the last few years."
Brett Connolly: "It's really refreshing to see a guy who's had so much success be so humble. He's just a really good guy, who's been really good to me the past two and a half years I've been here. Obviously an amazing player, arguably the best passer. He's never rushing, just plays his own way, letting teams play at his pace. [600 assists is] an amazing accomplishment."
Devante Smith-Pelly: You never know what to expect with superstars. You finally meet them and they're maybe not how you expect them to be, but he's been amazing since I came here. He's one of the leaders and welcomed me with open arms. We've grown to be close friends and I can't say enough good things about him, as a player and as a person."
Matt Niskanen: "From the outside you notice his passing ability. But I didn't realize how smart of a player - how complete of a player - he was until I got here. He's always in the right position, just has a great feel for the game. Obviously a lot of offensive touch, but his defensive awareness is definitely an underrated part of his game."
For Backstrom's youngest teammates, who grew up watching him, they've taken particular note of his professionalism, the work that went in to producing the highlight-reel plays they saw as kids.
Madison Bowey: "When I was younger, every time I watched a Capitals game it was Alex Ovechkin from Nicklas Backstrom, or vice versa. Watching him [up close] has been amazing, but also off the ice and how he handles himself as a true pro. He's so focused and determined to come to the rink. There's not much to improve for him, but he finds a way every day to work on something to get better."
Chandler Stephenson: "I remember ever since my first camp here, he was one of the first guys to say hello. He's always welcoming of young and new guys, treating them with nothing but the most respect. If you didn't know who he was, I don't think anybody would know that he's a hockey player, an All Star, a Hall of Famer. That says a lot about who he is. This is a huge achievement for him and his family and I'm looking forward to it."
Backstrom, the ninth Swedish-born player to reach 600 assists, ranks first in multi-assist games since he entered the League (141), first in three-assist games (40) and four-assist games (11).
He tallied the third-most assists in a season in Capitals history in 2009-10 (68) and has recorded five of the 10 60-assist seasons in franchise history (2008-09, 2009-10, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2016-17). In addition, he ranks first in Capitals history in 40-assist seasons (10) and 50-assist seasons (8).
Capitals head coach Todd Reirden also had high praise for Backstrom.
Todd Reirden: "I could go on for a while here. He's a guy who I coached against - I've been fortunate to coach against him in [Pittsburgh] - so I was able to watch him, and you always have a certain admiration for a guy who can do the things Nick can do. But it pales in comparison to how I feel about him now that I've coached him. Now that I get to watch him every day, see how he thinks in the game ... The things he sees during the pressurized situations are amazing. We're fortunate to have him here and so is everyone around this area who gets to watch him perform."