Throughout the first six seasons of his NHL career, Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom has found incredible success,compiling 431 points in 427 games. This great statistical output has helped the Capitals to six consecutive playoff appearances, and would lead one to believe that he would be regarded amongst the best hockey players in the world.
But this common sense belief has not played itself out in the public’s eye, as Backstrom continuously takes a backseat to star sniper Alexander Ovechkin. Many people believe that the fact that Backstrom has had the fortune of playing with arguably the best hockey player in the world has had a larger impact on on his point total than any individual skill, and point to the fact that assists compile 73.5 percent of the 431 points as proof.
There is certainly some merit to the argument, as it would be nearly impossible to truly believe that Backstrom wouldn’t take some sort of hit if Ovechkin was not by his side. At the same time, it is equally hard to believe that Backstrom would not be a force to be reckoned with on nearly any team’s first line in the NHL, and in fact, this has began to play itself out recently.
Over the Capitals’ last two games, Backstrom has been placed alongside Martin Erat and Eric Fehr on the Capitals’ first line as a result of an upper body injury to Ovechkin, and he has done nothing shy of flourish. In the two games, he has scored three goals and compiled one assist with a +3 plus/minus rating, in turn helping the Capitals win both games by a combined score of 10-2.
One might wonder what two games could truly show in the big scope of things, as athletes in any sport often have a great showing over a short period that truly is nothing more than a flash in the pan. In this case, though, this is obviously not the case, as Backstrom has been dominating his opposition both in his conventional distributing style and by actually shooting the puck. It appears as if he has somewhat been freed by Ovechkin being off the ice, now able to take on more of an aggressive role with the puck instead of being confined to distributing the puck to a clear sniper.
Furthermore, rather than just showing that Backstrom has the ability to take on a bigger role in terms of scoring goals, this short run of success also shows that he is willing to do what is best for the team in favor of giving up personal glory. In the sport of hockey, this is a trait that can not go undervalued in the locker room, but in terms of media fervor, it rings low on the ladder.
When Ovechkin inevitably returns from his upper-body injury to become a dominant force for the Capitals, there is no doubt that Backstrom’s goal scoring prowess will again turn to the back burner. One must only look at the two goals and 10 assists he compiled over the first 12 games of the season as the center for Ovechkin to see this. But this should not mean he goes back on the back burner on the list of being one of the top 10 hockey players in the world. In fact, it should only vault him up the ladder.
It is time to take Backstrom out of the list of great sidekicks and include him in the list of the top 10 hockey players in the world today.