Mikael Backlund could get used to suiting up in the Calgary Flames locker room on a regular basis.
Backlund is among 30 prospects taking part in Calgary’s annual development camp, which runs until Saturday at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
“That’s really cool to sit in there,” said the 19-year-old centre, Calgary’s first round (24th overall) pick at the 2007 National Hockey League Entry Draft.
Backlund will return for rookie camp in September before attempting to crack the Flames lineup in main camp.
“Hopefully I’m really close,” he said. “We’ll see, but it’s a great feeling to sit in there and be here in the Pengrowth Saddledome and just be in Calgary.”
Backlund admitted to feeling a bit rusty when he took to the ice with the other prospects on Tuesday.
“It was hard,” he said, adding it was only his seventh or eighth time on the ice since finishing his season with his hometown Vasteras team in Sweden. “My goal this week is to show how good I am. I think I’m stronger now and getting a little bit bigger. I will do my best and see how good I am.”
General Manager Darryl Sutter said Backlund would have to have a breakout performance at Calgary’s main camp in order to earn a spot on the squad.
“You’re not going to keep a 19-year-old boy on your team if he’s not a top player,” said Sutter, noting he’s fine with Backlund’s decision to return to play with Vasteras if he doesn’t make the NHL this season.
“He doesn’t want to play junior hockey. Quite honestly, I’m fine with that. He’s an elite player in his age group. He’s going to play with men (and) he’s probably better served. I wish he’d play more games.”
Last season, Backlund contemplated heading overseas to play with the Kelowna Rockets, who own his Western Hockey League rights, but instead opted to play with Vasteras.
“I thought about it last year but not this year,” said the 6-foot, 196-pound prospect. “I think it's better for me to play against men and improve this year. If I don't take a place (here), I'll go home and try to take my team up to the elite league and play at world juniors. It'll be great, too, but priority one is to play here.”
After the development camp, Backlund will spend another week in Calgary before heading to Lake Placid to meet up with Sweden’s national junior team for an exhibition game against the Americans.
At last year’s World Junior Hockey Championships in the Czech Republic, Backlund notched three goals and four assists in six games as Sweden lost 3-2 in overtime to Canada in the gold medal game.
“I wanted to play really good, and that was a good time,” he said. “So close to a gold medal. We’ll take the gold medal this year (in Ottawa).”
After his world junior experience, Backlund returned to Vasteras and improved his play in the second half of the season.
“I didn’t play good at home so it was a good experience for me to see how I played against my own guys,” he said. “I think I played good and had a good tournament. I was happy with that.” While Backlund has a guaranteed spot to play with Vasteras, his ultimate goal is to play for the Flames.
“The whole spring and summer I trained to be here this season, but we’ll see,” he said, noting he’s looking forward to see how he stacks up against NHL-calibre talent. “I have no idea . . . but I hope I am close.”
“I don’t think there's any pressure on him,” noted Sutter. “He’s one of the best 19-year-old players in the world. Either he plays in Calgary or he plays in Sweden – it’s that simple. ”
For now, Backlund is enjoying life at the Saddledome, but he’d much prefer getting ready to play in front of a capacity crowd during the regular season.
“I’ll be really, really happy if I will take a jersey and see the crowds up there,” he said.