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Ryan Leslie sat down with Flames centre Mikael Backlund to talk about his long journey from first-round pick to his current breakout season.

by RYAN LESLIE @ryanleslie73 /


Mikael Backlund's story comes down to expectations, perseverance, the journey and finally his arrival.

A 2007 first-round pick, the two-way centre felt the pressure right away to live up to lofty expectations. From playing back home in Sweden, to a Flames training camp, to stints in junior with Kelowna , and then the American Hockey League in Abbotsford.

There were moments, thanks to injuries, conditioning and some hard lessons, where it was a real struggle for Backlund. There were times he thought about packing it up and calling it a day.

"I had those thoughts," he admits. "Is this for me? Am I a good enough player to be here?"

The wake-up call he needed came during an exit meeting with then Flames coach Brent Sutter, who told Backlund if he didn't pick up his play he wouldn't be in the NHL. He was told his one-year, one-way contract could be his last. 

That's how close Backlund came to seeing his NHL dream end.

So, he got in the best shape of his life and a lockout allowed him to reset after playing against some of the best overseas.

He had a new outlook and a new focus.

But Backlund still shouldered plenty of pressure. While he was finding his game he was also trying to find his way.

An even-keeled, dare we say easy going, even likeable person who's good nature and overall makeup would sometimes allow him to be on the receiving end of teammates ribbing. Not unique, but never easy. 

Yet, he endured.

Anyone who's followed No. 11's career knows there was plenty of trade talk surrounding him. A few years ago, he admits, he knew he was on the block. But a deal never happened. 

This season, Backlund has turned in his best overall performance in the Flaming C, one that may earn him a Selke Trophy nod. He's consistently been one of the team's top forwards and become a go-to guy for the club.

Yes, under the watchful eye of the Flames faithful, Mikael Backlund has arrived.



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