There’s no timetable for defenseman Mattias Backman to bring his game to North America just yet — but for now, he’s excelling in the Swedish Hockey League.
The 21-year-old has been anchoring Linkoping’s first pairing with high-scoring veteran captain Magnus Johansson and is averaging 19 minutes per game while leading the SHL with a plus-23 rating and contributing offensively with five goals and 14 assists in 48 games.
Backman’s season was a little slower off the mark than hoped because a personal matter prevented him from maintaining his normal off-season training regimen until late in the summer. The setback was significant, but his game has picked up as the season progressed and he was rock-solid leading into the Olympic break.
“He’s a better 1-on-1 player (than last season), and that plus-minus rating tells you that,” said Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson. “He’s good at eliminating guys. Sometimes, still, you can see the youth. He’s a bit optimistic at times — he likes to pinch down a bit too often — but he’s winning more battles and looking more experienced out there.”
The 6-foot-2 176-pounder has always been a smooth, mobile puck-carrying defenseman, drawing comparisons to Vancouver Canucks blueliner Alexander Edler. He put himself on the map with Sweden’s gold-medal-winning squad at the IIHF world junior championship squad in 2012 and he signed a three-year entry-level contract with Detroit last May.
Andersson said Red Wings director of player development Jiri Fischer scouted two of Backman’s games in January and came away very impressed.
“He may be the most excited about him in our entire organization,” Andersson said.
Although he’s slightly behind last season’s 26-point pace, it’s not a sign of regression.
“He looks more confident with the puck,” Andersson said. “He has no problem carrying it all the way up the ice or making the first pass. He looks better with the puck.”
Backman, who could use another 10 pounds of muscle, has two years left on his entry-level contract and is exempt from waivers for two more seasons. But the Red Wings don’t have a deadline for his arrival in North America, so another season in Sweden is possible. They’d love for him get a look with Team Sweden at May’s IIHF world championship like Calle Janrkrok did last year.
“We’ll just wait,” Andersson said. “He was on the verge of the national team last spring. I think he has a reasonable chance to make the world championship team. He’s among the top 10 or 12 best defensemen in the league and with a little bit of luck, he could squeeze into that top seven. We’ll see how he finishes the year and we’ll go from there.”
NOTES: Center Calle Jarnkrok (Grand Rapids, AHL) suddenly has 13 points in his past 13 games, although just one goal. On the season he has 30 points in 54 games, fifth on the Griffins … Winger Tomas Jurco finished the Olympics with one goal, a minus-1 and eight shots while averaging 14:09 in ice time per game in four contests for 11th-place Slovakia … Henrik Zetterberg’s back surgery is bad news for the Red Wings, but if there’s any good news out of it, it’s that long-term injured reserve will provide the salary-cap relief for general manager Ken Holland to keep prospects such as Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco with the big club … Center Luke Glendening told MLive.com his inability to find the net in 33 NHL games is “getting a little frustrating and a little old real quick.” A little more offense would make Glendening an invaluable fourth-line player … According to metronews.ca, right-winger Martin Frk “thought it would be a little easier to play pro, but it’s very hard.” … Forward Teemu Pulkkinen and defenseman Gleason Fournier received their first NHL recalls for practice purposes during the Olympic break. Adam Almquist also got the call … Right-winger Zach Nastasiuk (Owen Sound, OHL) returned from injury this week and recorded an assist … The latest on left-winger Tyler Bertuzzi (Guelph, OHL) from ourwindsor.com: he’s still not practising because of a neck/head injury that has kept him out since early December … Left-winger Andreas Athanasiou (Barrie, OHL) was named OHL player of the week for the week of Feb. 10.
Sarah Lindenau contributed to this report.
SKATERS: REGULAR-SEASON REPORT
|Almquist, Adam||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||51||2||35||37||48||0||99|
|Callahan, Mitchell||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||54||21||8||29||47||+16||154|
|Jurco, Tomas||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||32||13||19||32||14||+10||91|
|Marchenko, Alexey||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||49||3||15||18||14||+11||34|
|Sheahan, Riley||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||31||8||10||18||12||-2||51|
|Sproul, Ryan||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||53||8||16||24||32||+5||112|
|Glendening, Luke||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||18||5||7||12||18||+8||26|
|Jarnkrok, Calle||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||54||11||19||30||14||+14||87|
|Pulkkinen, Teemu||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||54||19||23||42||26||+14||153|
|Frk, Martin||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||32||1||5||6||16||-10||27|
|Jensen, Nick||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||25||0||0||0||6||+6||14|
|Tvrdon, Marek||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||1||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|Ferraro, Landon||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||51||12||14||26||40||-1||135|
|Aubry, Louis-Marc||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||19||1||0||1||14||-3||28|
|Fournier, Gleason||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||11||0||0||0||0||+3||6|
|Parkes, Trevor||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||19||2||2||4||15||+2||30|
|Nestrasil, Andrej||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||48||5||9||14||14||-6||57|
|Ouellet, Xavier||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||49||4||9||13||20||+1||61|
|Nedomlel, Richard||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||3||0||0||0||2||-2||1|
|Nastasiuk, Zach||Owen Sound||OHL||CHL||52||17||24||41||22||-11||–|
|McNulty, Marc||Prince George||WHL||CHL||60||17||23||40||111||-6||–|
|De Haas, James||Clarkson||ECAC||NCAA||31||3||7||10||16||-13||38|
|McKee, Mike||W. Michigan||BIG-10||NCAA||13||0||0||0||48||-2||4|
|Pope, David||W. Kelowna||USHL/JR-A||JR-A||43||24||20||44||20||–||–|
GOALIES: REGULAR SEASON REPORT
|Coreau, Jared||Grand Rapids||AHL||5||0||4||0||0||4.39||.873|
|Mrazek, Petr||Grand Rapids||AHL||19||13||5||1||1||2.21||.923|
|McCollum, Thomas||Grand Rapids||AHL||35||19||10||2||2||2.29||.923|