When Mikael Backlund skates onto the Saddledome ice this afternoon to face the San Jose Sharks, he'll join an exclusive Calgary Flames club.
The 900-game club. All with the same team.
The 34-year-old will become just the third player in Flames history to play 900 games, joining Jarome Iginla (1,2019) and Mark Giordano (949).
That Backlund will join those players in particular "makes it even more special," he said.
"Those players are very special players — Hall of Fame member, Norris Trophy winner — so it makes me feel special, too, being in the same club soon," Backlund said Friday following practice of his former teammates.
Both Backlund and his current head coach, Darryl Sutter, said his ability to stick in the NHL with the same club for as long as he has came partly because of his commitment to defensive play. Although he has never won the award for the NHL's top defensive player, the Selke Trophy, he has been a runner-up before and is certainly in the running this season.
Backlund, who was drafted in the first round of the 2007 NHL Draft by the Flames — helmed by then-general manager Sutter — worked on rounding out his game early in his career after coming to North America, first for part of a season with the junior WHL Kelowna Rockets in 2008-09 followed the next year by a tour of duty in the AHL with the Abbotsford Heat, the Flames' primary farm affiliate.
"I came in here, and Brent (Sutter, the coach in 2009-10) and Darryl told me 'you have to go to Abbotsford to learn how to play defence," recalled Backlund.
"If I wanted to play in the NHL, there's one way. It was a tough time in Abbotsford, but I learned a lot there and it definitely helped me be a better two-way player and to become the player I am today. When I look back to coming out of the lockout, coming back here and playing with more confidence overall in my game and playing better … The season after that, 2013-14, I feel I really took the next step in being a two-way player."
Darryl Sutter of today remarked on Backlund's "helluva year" this season, in which the centreman is enjoying his best season points-wise with 49 through 73 games played.
"He's having his numbers rise, and to be quite honest, performance-wise, it might be his best year, so it speaks volumes about him," Sutter said on Friday.
Sutter said Backlund was "ahead of the curve" among his peers at the time when the team decided to draft him in 2007.
"I'd seen him play in World Juniors and on his team in Sweden, and you see him at that level … he was a first-round pick. If you look at that draft, the centremen that went in it — I can think of four of them (one being his nephew Brandon) — they were all similar-type players," Sutter said.
"But you could see with Backs, because he was an elite player in his age group over there (in Sweden), so he was always on the power play and all that stuff. When you're like that, maybe you don't pay as much attention to the detail part of it on what it takes to play over here (in the NHL).
"It was pretty easy to see his IQ. You just watch him for a couple of games, it was pretty easy to see the kid knew the game. He's just got to play the whole game."