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Capitals begin off-season overhaul by signing Backstrom on Monday @NHL

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) - After a year of extra seasoning in his native Sweden, Nicklas Backstrom considers himself ready for the NHL. So do the Washington Capitals.

The 19-year-old centre signed his three-year, entry-level contract Monday, then was given his No. 19 Capitals jersey in what the team says will be the first of several improvements this off-season.

"This is another part of our rebuilding plan," owner Ted Leonsis said at a news conference at the team's practice facility. "He is another part of the foundation of the new core of the Washington Capitals."

Backstrom, listed at six feet and 183 pounds, gives Washington a young forward to possibly pair with its two Russian wingers, 2005-06 Calder Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

The Capitals finished with 70 points and ranked 27th in the 30-team NHL each of the past two seasons, so Leonsis has vowed to improve this summer.

Those changes began with Backstrom, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft. Instead of joining Washington right away, he opted to remain in Sweden and play a third season for his club there, Brynas. Backstrom recorded his best statistics in 2006-07, with 12 goals and 28 assists in 45 games.

Does he have targets for the types of numbers he hopes to produce in the NHL?

"We'll see what happens," Backstrom said, smiling.

He said he thinks the more physical style of play here will require the biggest adjustment. And he has no regrets about waiting to sign with the Capitals.

"I'm a better player, and I grew also as a person, too," Backstrom said.

Asked what his best attributes are, the teenager cited "good hockey sense" and "very good hands."

Capitals general manager George McPhee was more effusive in his praise.

"He's a very smart player, very poised, very patient with the puck," McPhee said. "He's better defensively than a lot of young players are. He's good on faceoffs. And he looks out for things on his own end. His positioning is really good. ... He's a pretty good hockey player."

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