The National Hockey League has been in business for 92 seasons. During all of those years, only five players have accumulated more assists in their first three seasons than Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom
. The Caps’ 22-year-old center has piled up 189 helpers in his first three seasons in the league. He is coming off the best season of his still-budding career, a 101-point (33 goals, 68 assists) campaign that elevated him to the ranks of the best in the business.
Backstrom joined Dennis Maruk, Mike Gartner and Alex Ovechkin
as just the fourth Capital ever to reach the century mark in points in a single season. Backstrom also placed fourth in the league in scoring in 2009-10.
As for the five players with more assists than Backstrom through three seasons, it’s a solid list: Wayne Gretzky, Peter Stastny, Denis Savard, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby. Only Gretzky, Stastny and Backstrom have totaled 55 or more assists in each of their first three NHL seasons.
Among all Capitals in franchise history, only Alex Ovechkin
totaled more points through his first three seasons in the NHL than Backstrom (258). Backstrom has averaged 1.05 points per game through his first three seasons. Among all Swedish-born players in league history, only Peter Forsberg (1.25) and Kent Nilsson (1.24) have put up more points on a per game basis. Only Forsberg (.90 assists per game) has averaged more assists per game than Backstrom (.77) among all Swedish-born NHLers.
Backstrom totaled 68 assists in the just-completed 2009-10 season. Only Dennis Maruk and Adam Oates have ever had more assists in a single season with the Capitals.
With 33 goals – a total that was more than double the 14 goals he scored as a rookie and Calder Trophy finalist in 2007-08 – Backstrom established a single-season personal best.
For the third time in as many seasons, Backstrom played in all 82 of his team’s games. He is the only member of the Capitals to play all 246 of Washington’s games since the start of the 2007-08 season, and he has yet to miss a game in his NHL career.
Backstrom also led the NHL with 48 road points (15 goals, 33 assists) in 2009-10.
During the playoffs, Backstrom kept the production coming. He had five goals and nine points in seven games, and now has a dozen goals and 30 points in 28 career Stanley Cup playoff contests.
“It’s a little bit frustrating to see a lot of guys still playing and we’re not,” said a frustrated Backstrom after Washington was eliminated from the playoffs. “We expected to be better than we were this year. It’s hard. Next year is a long way. But you have to fight through it. That’s hockey. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”
This season concluded Backstrom’s three-year entry-level contract. He and the Capitals are at work on a contract extension for 2010-11 and beyond.
“We have a young team and we have some older, experienced guys, too,” said Backstroms, looking ahead to next season. “I think that if we just change it up a little bit the things that we are doing, staying more focused and those kinds of things, I think we’ll be fine. Something we should have been learning from last year is that we have to stay focused all the time, and we weren’t. That’s something we have to take care of.”