“This is another part of our rebuilding plan,” Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis said during a press conference held on May 21, 2007. “He is another part of the foundation of the new core of the Washington Capitals.”
The person Leonsis was referring to was Swedish center Nicklas Backstrom, the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft. He had no idea how right he would be.
From the locker room of the newly-built Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the team — including Leonsis, vice chairman Dick Patrick, GM George McPhee, head of press relations Nate Ewell, and players Olie Kolzig and Brian Pothier — introduced the shy, skinny Swede to the press after the talented teenager signed his first NHL contract, a three-year entry-level deal.
Video by Eric McEerlain
Backstrom, along with older brother Kristoffer and father Anders, arrived in Washington DC two days earlier to better known his new home. Backstrom saw the White House and also threw out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals.
“Nicklas threw a strike on the outside corner,” Leonsis said, eliciting laughs from the gathered media. “It was a split-finger slider. It was a very fine pitch.”
After a year of extra seasoning in his native Sweden, Backstrom considers himself ready for the NHL. So do the Capitals.
Instead of joining Washington right away after being drafted, he opted to play a third season for his Swedish club, 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.”
Ten years later, Backstrom has teamed up with Alex Ovechkin to become one of the best players in franchise history, tallying 728 points in his first 734 games. Backstrom is the only Caps player in history to record seven 50-assist seasons.
In January, Backstrom became the 139th player in NHL history to reach the 500-assist plateau.
Fast-forward to today, Backstrom is playing in the gold medal game of the 2017 World Championship with his home country of Sweden.
Photos: Gary Kriebel/On Frozen Blog
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