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Young Backlund could be key for aging Flames

by Tal Pinchevsky
With an average age of 29.35, the Calgary Flames were the NHL's second-oldest team last season. So it's hardly surprising the team would be focusing on one of their young prospects as a potential contributor for the 2010-11 season.

For a Flames team looking to improve on a season in which they barely missed the playoffs, the hope is Mikael Backlund can add a little extra this season.

Mikael Backlund
Center - CGY
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 25
SOG: 144 | +/-: 4
On a team packed with veterans, Backlund was the only player among Calgary's top 22 scorers last season younger than 27. With 25 points in 73 games, that distinction has given the Flames hope that the 24th pick of 2007 Entry Draft can step up in his second full season in Calgary.

"Looking at one guy in particular that can help, a young player, it's got to be Mikael Backlund. I think he's ready to take on a bigger role," said Flames veteran forward Brendan Morrison. "He's very responsible defensively, but I think he has the potential to put up some bigger numbers and be an offensive guy for our team. I think he's ready for a breakout year."

Like most of his teammates, Backlund got off to a difficult start last season. With 9 points in his first 39 games, Backlund seemed overwhelmed. But as the rest of the team rose, so did Backlund. He finished strong, posting 8 points in his final 12 games. That turnaround, coupled with a plus-4 rating that tied him for eighth on the team, has the Flames hoping the 22-year-old is ready to take the next step in his development.

"We have young prospects that had chances toward the end of last season," said Morrison. "I think a young guy like Backlund is a player who can really make some huge strides for our team."

However, it might prove difficult for Backlund to get more ice time. Calgary already has three centers firmly placed on the depth chart in Olli Jokinen, Morrison, and Matt Stajan, so Backlund might have to consider a move to the wing if he hopes to build on last season.

However he does it, Backlund's development could prove key in helping the veteran Flames return to the playoffs.
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