The story about how Hakan Andersson just missed a shot at drafting Alexander Edler almost a decade ago is well documented. But Mattias Backman is on course to take away some of the sting.
Andersson, the Detroit Red Wings director of European scouting, is thrilled with the progress of the 6-foot-2, 176-pound Backman, who sits among the top 10 defense scorers in the Swedish Elite League at just 21 years of age.
“He’s Alexander Edler, that’s how he looks to me,” said Andersson, comparing Backman to the Vancouver Canucks defenceman who just signed a six-year, $30-million contract extension.
“He’s surprising everybody. He’s coming along very nicely. He’s good-sized, he’s really mobile, he’s playing with more confidence, he’s joining the rush more, he’s more comfortable skating the puck out of his own end when he has to. Everything he does is with more authority.”
Backman plays for Linkoping and has a goal and 20 assists along with a plus-9 rating while averaging more than 20 minutes a night. He’s on pace to triple last year’s eight-point rookie output and is starting to realize the offensive potential Andersson saw in him when he was drafted in the fifth round, 146th overall, in 2011.
“We kind of felt he could be a player with the puck, and now he’s turned into that,” Andersson said. “He’s a big, mobile defenceman — I don’t know if he’s going to be a really physical guy who will scare you but he will scare you on the power play, that’s for sure. His game with the puck can be really good.”
While Backman’s not physical, he showed Andersson a tough mental attitude after taking a blindside hit while not carrying the puck during a national-team game in December.
“He said, ‘My own fault. You’ve got to be prepared always,’” Andersson recalled. “That was nice to hear that he thinks that way. He’s stepped up.”
Andersson said that aside from Edmonton Oilers first-rounder Oscar Klefbom, he wouldn’t trade Backman for any defenseman in Sweden.
Backman should get a look for Team Sweden at the IIHF world championship in May, but he’s expected to spend one more season with Linkoping before coming to North America.
Also encouraging to Andersson are reports he’s been receiving from the Kontinental Hockey League on defenceman Alexey Marchenko, a seventh-round pick in 2011 who plays for CSKA Moscow.
Marchenko, a rising star in his youth, had fallen off the radar over the past three years because of injuries and is only now climbing the charts at age 21. He has four goals and five assists in 42 games and is averaging 13 minutes per night.
Andersson said the 6-foot-2, 183-pounder is similar to Backman, not quite as advanced, but playing in a better league.
“He’s a bit like Backman, he needs to fill out, but he’s good with the puck and he’s a right-hand shot,” Andersson said. “They both have potential to come in and do something with puck. They won’t just be 6-7 defensemen who bang it off the glass.”
According to Andersson, CSKA — one of the better teams in the KHL — tried to re-sign Marchenko but so far, he’s held firm on his plan to play in North America next season.
“I’m convinced he can be a very good defenseman for Grand Rapids next season and where he takes it from there, I don’t know,” Andersson said.
NOTES: Goaltender Petr Mrazek earned the win for the Western Conference, 7-6 over the Esatern Conference, in the AHL all-star game, allowing two goals on six shots in the third period. Gustav Nyquist, considered a graduated prospect by RWC, had an assist, one shot, and a minus-two rating … Right-winger Mitchell Callahan (Grand Rapids, AHL) had a hat trick on Jan. 19 and is coming on with five goals and two assists in nine games along with 28 shots … Centre Riley Sheahan (Grand Rapids, AHL) has a team-leading plus-13 rating in 40 games … Left-winger Teemu Pulkkinen (Jokerit, Finnish SM-Liiga) has emerged from an early-season slump. After just six points in his first 22 games, he now has nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points in 25 games.
Following is this week’s statistical report.
SKATERS: REGULAR-SEASON REPORT
|Ferraro, Landon||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||42||16||17||33||31||0||95|
|Andersson, Joakim||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||33||10||15||25||51||-4||77|
|Parkes, Trevor||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||25||3||4||7||26||+4||23|
|Lashoff, Brian||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||36||2||4||6||23||+4||38|
|Tatar, Tomas||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||42||16||20||36||44||+9||141|
|Almquist, Adam||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||39||4||11||15||22||+5||50|
|Nicastro, Max||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||9||1||1||2||5||+3||7|
|Raedeke, Brent||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||25||2||4||6||30||-2||20|
|Sheahan, Riley||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||40||13||10||23||23||+13||66|
|Aubry, Louis-Marc||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||36||1||4||5||33||-1||49|
|Callahan, Mitchell||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||37||6||5||11||61||+1||57|
|Jurco, Tomas||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||40||6||5||11||12||-4||51|
|Fournier, Gleason||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||11||1||1||2||21||-3||9|
|Jensen, Nick||St. Cloud State||WCHA||NCAA||26||3||16||19||10||+9||38|
|De Haas, James||Penticton||USHL/JR-A||BCHL||41||4||17||21||17||–||–|
|Sproul, Ryan||Sault Ste. Marie||CHL||OHL||32||14||27||41||33||+3||–|
|Nedomlel, Richard||Swift Current||CHL||WHL||50||2||18||20||85||-10||–|
|Marchenko, Alexey||CSKA Moscow||EUR||KHL||42||4||5||9||6||0||45|
GOALIES: REGULAR SEASON REPORT
|McCollum, Thomas||Grand Rapids||AHL||17||10||6||1||1||2.69||.899|
|Pearce, Jordan||Grand Rapids||AHL||3||0||3||0||0||4.38||.847|
|Mrazek, Petr||Grand Rapids||AHL||23||14||7||11||0||2.42||.911|