Backman could be next Swede to join Wings
MAY 28, 2014 11:07a ET
GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. -- It really doesn't matter where the Red Wings choose a player in the upcoming NHL draft -- if he's from Sweden, people expect him to succeed.
After all, so many Swedes have succeeded over the years, including captain Henrik Zetterberg, chosen in the seventh round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft with the 210th pick, and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, chosen in the ninth round of the 2002 draft with the 291st pick.
So when Wings general manager Ken Holland mentioned the name Mattias Backman, fans paid attention.
Backman, 21, is a native of Linkoping, south of Stockholm. The Wings took Backman in the fifth round of the 2011 draft with the 146th pick.
Backman is a 6-foot-2, 170-pound defenseman who came over from Sweden with two games remaining in the Grand Rapids Griffins' regular season and made his AHL debut on April 15 against the Lake Erie Monsters.
He played in those two games and in 10 playoff games until the Texas Stars eliminated the Griffins in the second round of the AHL playoffs.
Backman had one goal and five assists in the playoffs, and impressed Griffins coach Jeff Blashill immediately.
"Mattias has been compared a lot to Danny DeKeyser and probably rightfully so," Blashill said. "He skates very well, he's got a real long stick. They both have skinnier bodies that they've had to build up their strength so that they can handle the rigors of pro hockey. He's got a real ability to get back to the puck, break it out, he can pass the puck real well.
"I think he's got borderline dynamic offensive ability from the blue line in. That'll be a real, real plus in his game. He looks like somebody to me that's got a chance to play in the NHL as early as next year."
With Linkoping, his Swedish Hockey League team, Backman had six goals and 15 assists in 54 games this past season and two goals and 24 assists in 52 games during the 2012-13 season.
Backman had seven assists in 13 playoff games with Linkoping this season and two goals and four assists in 10 playoff games with Linkoping last season.
"It's fun to play here, a little different," Backman said after the Griffins defeated the Abbotsford Heat in the first round. "It's going faster and more intense and at the end every time you get the puck and make a play, you get hit. But I like the play here."
In the clinching game against the Heat, Backman got quite the surprise when goaltender Petr Mrazek came way out of the net to play the puck.
Backman rushed to get back to protect the net, making a full-out dive to prevent the puck from going in.
"I think at first the puck bumps over my blade at the blue line and they come, one, two, for a rush, and he comes out.," Backman said with a laugh. "I don't know, the puck goes up in the air and I was staying to the puck, do what I want for the team."
Holland and Wings coach Mike Babcock were both at that game and have met Backman, but they haven't really discussed his future with him.
"We haven't talked so much," Backman said. "This was my first time I come over here so I think it's good for my development to come over here in the playoffs."
“Mattias has been compared a lot to Danny DeKeyser and probably rightfully so.”
Babcock wants the Wings to have a right-shooting defenseman next season but Backman shoots left, so he won't be able to fill that role.
Backman has visited North America before and won a gold medal with Team Sweden in the 2012 World Junior Ice Hockey championships in Calgary.
Backman had three assists in six games in that tournament.
Backman wore No. 5 with Linkoping, which offers a clue about his favorite player.
"Growing up, I will say Nicklas Lidstrom," Backman said. "I think he's one of the best players I've seen on defense. He's a big player for me."
Although Lidstrom returned to Sweden and has done some scouting for the Wings, Backman has not met him yet but hopes to do so at some point.
Backman won't be able to wear No. 5 if he does eventually play in Detroit but he was happy that the Wings took him in the draft.
"Of course it's special," Backman said. "I don't think so much when I get drafted but of course a lot of Swedes have played here so of course it's good to be drafted by Detroit."
The roster for the Wings annual development camp at Center ICE Arena in Traverse City from July 4-8 has not been released yet but it would not be a surprise to see Backman there.
Wings fans should not expect Backman to play like his hero, Lidstrom, the soon-to-be Hall of Famer, but they should expect this fifth-rounder to play for the Wings in the next couple of years.
"I'm going to do my best here and of course try to make it in the NHL," Backman said. "I know it's really hard."