It’s still early, but Nicklas Backstrom has looked like a different player in the 2023 preseason. The Capitals’ all-time assist leader has seemingly found the fountain of youth after struggling through hip-related issues for the last few years.
A full 15 months after hip resurfacing surgery, Backstrom has spent the entirety of Training Camp centering the first line and he’s looked dominant in that role thus far. He’s played big minutes in the two preseason games he’s suited up in and has not looked a step behind in Spencer Carbery’s new quick-moving system.
Recently, Tom Wilson praised the Super Swede in an interview, saying that Backstrom “looked amazing.”
“He looked like himself from 10 years ago,” Wilson said. “He was moving his feet really well. I’ll play with that guy any day of the week. He’s such a smart player. He makes the guys on the ice around him better.”
Backstrom’s talented Swedish trainer and close friend, Andreas Öhgren, saw Wilson’s comment and added one of his own to his Instagram Story.
“I’ve agree 100%,” Öhgren said. “I’ve never seen you move better than you’re doing now. Your hard work is showing. I’m so proud and happy for you my friend.”
Backstrom’s hip issues stretched back to 2015 when he had arthroscopic surgery to try and alleviate his issues.
Backstrom has gone from noticeable in a not-so-great way last season to noticeable in all-the-best ways after having five months to train over the offseason.
In two preseason games, Backstrom has received 18:49 and 16:43 of ice time, including regular minutes on the power play. At 5v5, where Backstrom struggled most last year, the Capitals have tilted the ice, out-attempting opponents 27 to 16 and generating an expected goals of 1.58 to 0.76.
But it’s been his shifts during 4v4 and 3v3 overtime where Backstrom has perhaps shown he’s truly back, keeping up and being faster than other younger players in open ice.
It’s important to note this is the preseason and both teams have not played all their top players during these matchups. The sample size of what I’m presenting is teeny tiny. How much to make of all of this is unclear heading into the regular season. But early on, Backstrom has shown glimpses of being a top-tier center again.
In the only press conference Backstrom has had so far with Caps media, Back made it clear that he wants to speak with his play this year and his focus is no longer on his hip.
“I’ve got nothing more to say about it — I’m 100%,” Backstrom said earlier in September. “I’ve done everything I can this summer. I worked really hard, really excited to be here for the training camp.”
We’re all rooting for you, Nicke.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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