Flames prospect panning out

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

Regardless of how the season ends for the Calgary Flames, it appears not all is lost.

Over the last few weeks locals have witnessed a rarity around these parts: The emergence of a genuine first-round prospect — Mikael Backlund.

And while many are familiar with the young Swede’s name, his play down the stretch marks a true coming of age for the 21-year-old.

Anchoring a surprisingly solid second line between Rene Bourque and Ales Kotalik, the Abbotsford call-up has five assists in his last four outings.

Much more importantly, he’s a perfect fit for Brent Sutter’s defence-first system.

Taught to play an overall game by Jim Playfair on the farm, where he was the American Hockey League’s player of the week before his post-Olympic recall, Backlund has been a big part of the team’s late playoff push.

Blocking shots, winning key draws and excelling at both ends of the rink, Backlund gives fans much-needed hope that the 24th pick overall in 2007 is a legitimate NHL centreman on a team desperately short on young, top-end talent.

If only he’d staged his coming out party a few months earlier, the Flames might not be in this mess.

Now, time for more notes, quotes and anecdotes from a sports world wondering just how much sleep the ultra-sensitive Dion Phaneuf has quietly lost over being named by his peers as the NHL’s most overrated player.

Around the horn

In one of the most masterful strokes of marketing genius the golf, er, adult entertainment world has ever seen, Joslyn James — one of Tiger Woods’ more opportunistic gal pals — will be stripping minutes from Augusta National this week. Ads for the Pink Pony have been asking all week “Will Tiger come to see her at The Pony?” and “Will they start sexting again?” ... Only 70-something games in and it appears Jay Bouwmeester is finally starting to step up and take the odd chance offensively. How nice ... Love him or hate him, you’ve got to give the retiring Kerry Fraser credit for having more personality than most players in today’s NHL. How many players would roll with playful questions on their hair product like Fraser did during an off-season Calgary stop years back? ... Here’s why a team like the Chicago Blackhawks is such a heavy Stanley Cup fave. Late in the season with stars resting, a mucker like Tomas Kopecky scores six goals in his last eight games, including a soul-crushing snipe against Calgary Sunday. To illustrate the significance of his sudden contributions, consider in his previous 245 NHL games he had just 15 goals.

Parting gifts

If Tiger Woods does the unthinkable and comes back to win this week’s Masters, what do we tell our children concerning the old adage ‘cheaters never prosper?’ ... Maybe it was wrong to be so hard on the Flames for their recent loss on Long Island as the Islanders are on a 7-3-1 roll that includes wins over playoff squads like the New Jersey Devils, the Vancouver Canucks, the Ottawa Senators and the Philadelphia Flyers ... For every annoying minute of having to watch the silliness of Kraft Hockeyville, bless the folks at Hockey Night in Canada for giving us P.J. Stock, whose delivery and role has been a refreshing addition the last few years ... For all the accolades (and Hart Trophy consideration) Henrik Sedin is receiving for his league-leading 105 points, his brother Daniel deserves almost equal billing as he is on pace to have scored 107 points had he not missed 19 games due to injury. As it stands, Daniel entered last night’s game 15th amongst league scoring leaders despite the absence ... Not that anyone out east will listen, but we’ll say it again anyway — Miikka Kiprusoff deserves to be a Vezina finalist. Trophy favourites Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres and Ilya Bryzgalov of the Phoenix Coyotes have goals against average of 2.23 and 2.30 respectively, while Kiprusoff sits at 2.24. How many weeks ago would the Flames playoff hopes have been officially dashed if not for No. 34?


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