World Cup training camps are set to begin next week. Team Sweden announced this morning that Detroit Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg will miss the tournament due to injury and will be replaced by Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund.
Mikael Backlund’s Role on Sweden’s World Cup Roster
Inviting the native of Vasteras to join the team corrects an oversight that was made when he was left off the original roster. Sweden has a deep and talented team, so it’s not like missing out on this team would be an embarrassment. However, Backlund brings a solid two-way game that never should have been overlooked.
Not to pick on a two-time Stanley Cup winner, but when it was announced Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger made Sweden’s World Cup team over Backlund, it left many fans in Calgary scratching their heads.
Sure, Kruger plays a sound defensive game, kills penalties, wins faceoffs and can play against opponents top players. However, Backlund can do all of those things – arguably better than the Hawks fourth liner – while also scoring at a far greater rate than Kruger.
Kruger played only 41 games last season, but failed to score a single goal and chipped in just four assists. Backlund, on the other hand, scored 21 goals and 47 points in a full season. Not to mention, Backlund boasts an impressive 52.3 Corsi-for percentage (CF%), while Kruger checked in at 48.2% last season.
Alas, both Kruger and Backlund will be skating when the tournament opens on September 18th at the Air Canada Center. Sweden finds themselves in a tough group with Finland, Russia, and North America. They will play each team twice, and only two of the four will make it to the semi-finals.
Sweden enters the tournament as a favorite alongside Canada. They boast perhaps the deepest group of defenders, led by Victor Hedman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Erik Karlsson. Sweden also has an excellent goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist and a talented group of two-way forwards.
Down the middle, Backlund will be battling Nicklas Backstrom, Henrik Sedin and Kruger for ice time. The Flames pivot will find himself slotted behind Backstrom and Sedin at center. Filip Forsberg, Gabriel Landeskog, Daniel Sedin and Loui Eriksson should be the wingers in the top six.
Role and Linemates
This means we should see Backlund centering a very talented two-way line with Alexander Steen and Jakob Silfverberg. Steen and Silfverberg are similar players to Backlund that can score 20 goals, put up half of a point per game or better and drive possession.
It’s speculation at this point, but if Backlund were on a line with Steen and Silfverberg, he would be playing the familiar role of taking on the opponents best players. He can expect to start many shifts in his own zone. He will be asked to shut teams down while scoring the odd goal.
Sweden has several excellent two-way players, but Backlund is the best candidate to play a big role while shorthanded. Sedin and Backstrom are excellent offensive centers, so it makes sense to allow them to play power plays. This will allow Backlund and Kruger to handle the penalty killing duties down the middle. The Flames center can score, which was proven by his 21 goals last season. However, he isn’t likely to see much time with the man advantage.
It’s a role Flames fans have come to expect Backlund to put in, and to excel in since he arrived in Alberta full time six seasons ago. This September, Backlund will get the chance to show his excellent two-way game on the world stage. He has a great chance to play a major role in his country winning a medal.