Hockey paths cross for Brynas alumni
Washington’s Backstom says Silfverberg now the bigger star
Nicklas Backstrom has spent the past five seasons as the set-up man for Alexander Ovechkin. He has scored at a point-per-game pace during his NHL career, topped the 100 point mark in 200910 and is widely considered one of the top centres in the world.
For all that, he’s not even the biggest hockey name in his hometown of Gävle, Sweden, population 71,000.
According to Backstrom, that honour belongs to Ottawa Senators rookie right winger Jakob Silfverberg.
“I would say he is (the bigger star) right now,” the Washington Capitals star said before Tuesday’s game at Scotiabank Place against the Senators. “We have a little bit of a different style. He’s more like Ovi-style. He shoots a lot. He goes to the net and he can score goals. That’s what I’ve seen in him. And that’s what he did last year in the playoffs in Sweden. So, hopefully, he can do the same thing here.”
Silfverberg, who went into Tuesday’s game with one goal in five games, led underdog Brynas to the Swedish Elite League title last season. He captured MVP honours in both the regular season and playoffs, becoming the toast of the town.
Backstrom, 25, drafted fourth overall by Washington in 2006, knows the story well. He played three seasons for his hometown Brynas before coming to North America. He also spends his summers skating at home in Gävle, part of a small group of pro players which includes goaltenders Anders Lindback of Tampa Bay and Jacob Markstrom of Florida.
“They had a great team (last season) and they worked together and some special guys like Silfverberg,” said Backstrom. “It was huge, it has been a couple of years (since a championship). It’s a hockey town. It was huge for the team and the whole city.”
Silfverberg, however, laughs when it’s suggested he’s more of a household name than Backstrom, who naturally served as role model because they’ve shared similar paths to the NHL.
“He’s a very skilled player, probably one of the best players in the league,” he said. “He’s so skilled with the puck and he has such a good head. I’m not there yet, but hopefully I will be there one day.”
Silfverberg, 22, was selected by the Senators in the second round (39th overall) of the 2009 entry draft. While the Senators tried to convince him to stay in Ottawa for the 2011-12 season, Silfverberg opted to play one more season with Brynas. In that regard, he was following in the skate marks of Backstrom. Silfverberg says Backstrom “evolved as a player and a person” while playing with Brynas.
He’s also taking to heart the words Backstrom told him during the summer skating sessions.
“When you get the puck, you’ve got to get a quick shot off,” he said. “You don’t have time to look up and shoot it. You’ve got to know where you want to shoot it when you get it. You’ve always got be ready for taking a shot because normally you have a guy right on you. That’s the best advice I’ve received from him.”
EYE ON BINGHAMTON
While Mika Zibanejad was back in the NHL with the Senators Tuesday, Swedish compatriot Robin Lehner picked up AHL player of the week honours. After being shipped to Binghamton from Ottawa early last week, Lehner went 2-0, winning a pair of shootouts.
In a 1-0 win over Syracuse Friday, Lehner stopped 40 saves in regulation and overtime and all five in the shootout. In a 3-2 win over Hershey on Saturday, he stopped 38 more, plus all three he faced in the shootout. On Monday, Lehner played in the AHL AllStar Game. For the season, he’s now 16-5-1, with a 1.80 goals against average and .948 save percentage.
“He was a superstar Friday night in the shootout of a 0-0 game and he stops five in a row,” said Senators general manager Bryan Murray. “The next night, in a 2-2 game, he stops all three in a shootout. Maybe we have to have a guy (here) on the bench like that. It shows that if you take your time with people, young people, the maturity level does take a little time. He has become a real pro.”
While Lehner is always knocking on the door of playing full-time in the NHL, a pair of other Binghamton prospects won’t receive that chance soon, due to injury.
Mike Hoffman, who attended the Senators training camp and has scored 12 goals and 12 assists in 38 games, is out with a broken collarbone. Meanwhile, Mark Stone, who has scored eight goals and 11 assists in 35 games, is out with a broken finger.
Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom, left, says Jakob Silfverberg of the Ottawa Senators is a big star back home in Sweden after having led his club team Brynas to the championship in the Swedish Elite League last season.