SUN Hockey Pool

Sutter smiling about top pick after WJHC

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

While most of the country had reason to rejoice the world junior tournament for Canada's fourth consecutive gold medal, the Flames had another reason to celebrate.

Mikael Backlund, the club's first-round choice at last summer's entry draft, had a superb tournament for the silver-medal winning Swedish team, netting three goals and four assists.

It had Flames GM Darryl Sutter, who returned Sunday after watching the final few days of the event, thrilled with Backlund's progress.

"Great 18 year old, I'll tell you that," Sutter said. "As good as any 18 year old in the tournament. He's gonna be a good hockey player.

"He was their best player against Canada, clearly. He was player of the game in the gold-medal game. He can make plays very few 18-year-old players can make."

Backlund, the 24th overall selection in 2007, has not had a successful season with Vasteras of Sweden's first division, with four goals and no assists in 22 games.

However, Sutter said he's not concerned with the development of the centre, who was chosen by the WHL's Kelowna Rockets in the CHL European draft.

"Looking at him on this stage, we're very happy. When he's ready to come over, he's a player," said Sutter, who added Backlund was "every bit as good as Patrik Berglund as an 18 year old.

"He'd win the (WHL) scoring race, that's clear. It's whether his country would allow a star player to come over. There are Swedes that come over and play junior, but they're not stars.

"I don't think there's a right way or a wrong way (for players from Sweden to follow). I think the Swedish environment is one that's conducive to stepping into the NHL. If it was a different country, I'd feel very strongly about where he should play."

Backlund can't be signed by the Flames until his season is Sweden is completed.

Sutter was also impressed by the Canadian fans on-hand in the Czech Republic cheering on the youngsters -- a group that included his nephew, Brandon Sutter.

Calgary's other draft choice in the tournament, Jusso Puustinen, had a strong tourney. The Kamloops Blazers forward led Finland's entry with four goals.


Videos

Photos