CALGARY, AB -- While Mikael Backlund made the most out of his time during the NHL work stoppage, the 23 year-old can't wait for the 2013 NHL season to get underway.
"I had a great time in Sweden," he said. "It was a lot of fun and I'm very grateful for the chance to play there, at home in front of my family.
"But this is where I belong, where I want to be, where I want to have a future and where I want to play right now."
In October, Backlund signed on to play for his hometown team, VIK Västerås HK, in Sweden's Allsvenskan league to ensure he didn't develop rink rust throughout the bargaining process between the NHL and NHLPA.
His stint with Västerås can only be dubbed as a success. He potted 12 goals and recorded 30 points through 23 games with the club, boosting his confidence heading into the 2013 NHL season.
"I got to play 20-30 minutes so that was great," he said. "I got to play in every situation and every second shift, pretty much. It was a lot of fun and it was good for me to get a lot of responsibility, learn to handle that, and be one of the top guys on the team.
"I feel like I improved and I am going to do all I can to get better, get my game going over here too."
The Swede is a natural centre but was shifted to the wing in Västerås. While he prefers to play up the middle, he is willing to play any position the coaching staff feels he will be most successful in this year.
"I wanted to play with Patrik Berglund," Backlund said of his time in Sweden. "We've had some good chemistry and he can't play wing so I had to.
"It was different to play wing but I've done it before. It was okay ... wherever the coach wants me to play, I'll do my best and make it work."
Backlund's play in Västerås caught the attention of Flames European scouts rolling through their regular routes. They sent word back to Calgary, letting general manager Jay Feaster know about the forward's progress.
"We have quite a few reports from our European scouts about him this season," Feaster told CalgaryFlames.com. "I have to admit that I have been pleasantly surprised and pleased with the way the reports have been coming in.
"I think that there is a tremendous opportunity for Mikael. We've had a lot of conversations with him about what he needs to do to seize that opportunity. Nothing would make us happier than for him to make our lives and our decision-making process that much more difficult. From a talent perspective, he's a guy that figures into that top-six forward mix."
The addition of Bob Hartley as the Flames head coach could be very influential on Backlund this year as he tries to rebound from a disappointing 2011-12 campaign. The forward suited up for just 41 games that year due to a broken finger and a shoulder injury, limiting his offensive production to four goals and 11 points.
Hartley wants his team to play an up-tempo, fast-paced game which features constant pressure on the opposition. That style of play suits Backlund quite well and he's looking forward to working with Hartley.
"That works way better for me. That's my style of hockey. I've always been a good skater so I like to use my feet and work hard and skate a lot. That is what I was doing in Sweden - I was skating lots and pressuring d-men."
Backlund was the Flames first round draft pick in the 2007 NHL Draft. In 138 games with Calgary, he has recorded 15 goals and 46 points.