Junior jacked to 'Lund job

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

At first glance, it would be a stretch for Mikael Backlund to make the Calgary Flames roster this coming fall.

At age 19 and needing to develop more physically, the skilled 2007 first-round draft choice would be in tough to succeed in his true calling -- as a top-six forward.

Then again, the way he turned his season around last year, beginning with a glorious performance at the World Junior Hockey Championships, it could be just the continuation of a rocket-like rise for the player chosen 24th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

It's certainly his goal.

"I hope to do that," Backlund said after partaking in drills during the team's summer prospects camp yesterday. "It's hard. I need to work hard.

"I'll do my best."

The 2007-08 campaign was truly a tale of two seasons for the 6-ft., 196-lb. centre.

The start was a deep low. He saw very little ice time with the Vasteras squad in the Allsvenskan -- one level below Sweden's top loop -- and points were at a premium.

Then came the boost he truly needed.

Backlund had a breakout world juniors, netting three goals and four assists in six contests for a Sweden entry that lost to Canada 3-2 in overtime in the gold-medal final.

"I wanted to play really good, and that was a good time," Backlund said. "So close to a gold medal. We'll take the gold medal this year."

He was twice named his team's player of the game, the second time being in the championship match.

He scored the overtime winner in the 2-1 semifinal victory over Russia, an outstanding effort to tuck the puck past the netminder after driving down his off-wing. And he returned to his club team with a renewed feeling of self-assurance.

"My season wasn't so good in the beginning," Backlund said.

"But the world juniors and after that I played good, got self-confidence ... It was a good experience for me to play against (players) my own (age)."

He finished the regular season on a roll -- five goals and four assists in the final 15 games (after netting only four goals in the first 22 contests) -- and then took it to another level in the playoffs in which he collected six goals and nine points in 14 games.

Soon will come the test to see if he can continue elevating his stock.

The Flames don't need Backlund to immediately fill a hole. Sure, his talent may be enough to make the squad already, but with Daymond Langkow, Matthew Lombardi, Craig Conroy and Wayne Primeau in those four slots and Dustin Boyd waiting in the wings, they're not in dire straits up the middle.

Plus, it would do little for Backlund's development to play in a fourth-line role here when he could be a regular back home.

However, there is the possibility he could force his way onto the team with an excellent training camp and pre-season and the Flames would make a trade. Backlund said he has no idea what the Flames brass is planning but plans to give it his best shot come September.

"The whole spring and summer I trained to be here this season, but we'll see," he said. "If I don't take a place (here), I'll go home and try to take my team up to the elite league and play at world juniors. It'll be great, too, but priority one is to be here."

As for those hoping he'd stay in North America and skate for the WHL's Kelowna Rockets -- Flames GM Darryl Sutter said Backlund would "win the (WHL) scoring race" if he did -- Backlund said no way.

"If I don't take a jersey here, I will go home to Sweden again," Backlund said. "I thought about it last year but not this year. I think it's better for me to play against men and improve this year."

Ice chips

The final touches are being put in place to finalize a rookie tournament in September featuring the Flames, the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks prospects, with Edmonton the likely host ... Dustin Boyd arrived for the camp at 198 lb., up nearly 10 lb. from when the season ended. He bulked up the muscle and hopes to have a playing weight in the 195-lb. range during the regular season.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA MORE NHL: PAGE 6

"IF I DON'T TAKE A JERSEY HERE, I WILL GO HOME TO SWEDEN AGAIN ... I THINK IT'S BETTER FOR ME TO PLAY AGAINST MEN."

MIKAEL BACKLUND, A FLAMES PROSPECT SELECTED 24TH OVERALL IN 2007 NHL ENTRY DRAFT


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