I felt like I matured as a player and as a person this year. I took some big steps, felt good about myself. Playing my game, I've been more comfortable this year. I'm playing the game I used to as a younger player but also taking the physicality to another level - playing harder, blocking more shots and making more hits. That's the next step I have to take to be a more complete player. - Mikael Backlund
CALGARY, AB -- One year ago, Mikael Backlund was in a very different position than the one he is in right now.
Coming off an abysmal year that saw him hamstringed by injuries and muster just four goals and 11 points in 41 games, Backlund was in need of a contract and didn't have a ton of NHL experience to bolster his resume going into negotiations. He had shown flashes of brilliance throughout his 137-game tenure with the club but his inconsistency raised questions about his ability to be regular contributor at the NHL level.
The Vasteras, SWE native and the team came to an agreement on July 5, 2012; a one-year contract that would serve as an opportunity to show to the Flames brass that he was cut out to play at this level.
"I felt like coming into this year, a lot people didn't know what to expect," he admitted. " A lot of people didn't think I had it in me anymore probably. Those guys who still believed in me, which Jay and the organization did ... I'm thankful for that.
"I came here to prove that I'm good enough to play in this league."
He certainly proved his worth in the truncated 2012-13 season.
He was limited to 32 games due to a knee injury but managed to double his goal total from the 2011-12 campaign and registered 16 points, putting him on pace to record 41 points in a full 82-game season. Head coach Bob Hartley asked him to shoulder more responsibility, giving the pivot more ice time and throwing him out in critical situations.
"I felt like I matured as a player and as a person this year. I took some big steps, felt good about myself," Backlund stated. "Playing my game, I've been more comfortable this year. I'm playing the game I used to as a younger player but also taking the physicality to another level - playing harder, blocking more shots and making more hits. That's the next step I have to take to be a more complete player."
A perfect example of adding more grit and intensity to his game came on Apr. 19 when the Flames were hosting the Anaheim Ducks. Defenceman Ben Lovejoy sent Curtis Glencross sprawling to the ice with a knee-on-knee hit and Backlund came flying in to defend his teammate.
He ended up dropping the gloves with the 6-foot-2, 215 lbs. Lovejoy, letting it be known that he wasn't going to allow opponents to throw questionable hits without having to answer for them.
"When I saw who jumped in there, I was shocked at first,” Glencross conceded. "I give him a lot of credit for it. Right after that, I told him, 'Thanks for stepping in.' It showed that fierce side of him."
The 24 year-old also was able to take on a leadership role over the course of the season. With several players called up from the Abbotsford Heat late in the year, he acted as a mentor to help guide them through the process of transitioning to the NHL. He also was a constant source of support for rookie Sven Baertschi, who went through growing pains throughout his first professional season.
"I try to be more vocal and more responsible in the room when we lost some guys, even before that too, but especially after ... I've been in the same situation. I tried to help them when they came up and let them know how it works. If they have anything (to ask), I try to support them - try to talk to them, be a good guy to talk to."
Now, Backlund is once again looking to re-up with the Flames but feels much more confident heading into negotiations than he did last spring. He has shown he can be reliable two-way player and after speaking with his agent, he feels that a deal will be worked out sooner than later.
"My next mission is to prove that I can be a good player in the this league, be a consistent, solid top guy in this league. That's my goal - to establish myself as a really good player in this league."