SUN Hockey Pool

Backlund coming into his own -- Cammy

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

LOS ANGELES - Mikael Backlund was just a kid suiting up for his first NHL game when Michael Cammalleri last played with him.

But Backlund has come a long way since the 2008-09 season, when the talented Swede first ventured into North American hockey.

He was just starting. He was just a prospect you know, just finding his way, Cammalleri said Wednesday of the former first-round Calgary Flames selection. Hes developed, for sure.

Just looking at him, hes stronger and bigger and filled out and developed.

Cammalleri told the 22-year-old as much after rejoining the Flames following a trade with the Montreal Canadiens last week.

Just when we met he said, I got a little bigger, Backlund said. Its been, I dont know, four years since we played together? My first year here.

The first time we played together, I was really nervous. A young player, probably 18. A little shy.

Obviously, Ive been changing a little fitter now than I was back then.

Physically, for sure. Mentally, hes working on it.

Backlunds inconsistency and dips in confidence have been keeping him from reaching the sort of heights many expect hes capable of, especially this season.

He showed Tuesday night in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Sharks in San Jose that he still has the upside that made him worthy of the 24th overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Playing between Cammalleri and Flames captain Jarome Iginla, Backlund looked quick, hungry, aggressive in San Jose. Most of all, he looked confident.

Boy, the last three or four games, hes really been playing well, said Flames head coach Brent Sutter. I think hes really taking it to heart here about what weve been talking to him about and going through with him and how important he is to this team. We need him to be a top-six forward for us, and he needs to play well.

I think hes excited in the fact hes having a chance to play with Jarome and Cammy, but I think he was playing well before he got that opportunity the other night.

He didnt look out of place.

Assisting on the teams only goal, Backlund suited up for a season-high 23:01, played on the penalty-kill unit and finished with a plus-1 rating.

But his most memorable play might have been a move from behind the goal-line as he aggressively took the puck to the net for a scoring attempt.

I thought his compete, work ethic last night was notable for sure, Cammalleri said. From what I see just talking to him and communicating with him, he wants to get better, he wants to keep improving He wants to do all those things you need to do to be a player that you can rely on in this league. Thats a real positive.

Hes asking questions and working on things. And not only asking telling, too. Coming and saying, Hey, this is what Im going to do.

I think thats really important. I think teammates need to push each other that way.

His overall confidence or persona that way, its good to see him developing that way.

Backlund is working on it.

I felt the last couple of games Ive been playing better and better. This is the way I want to play. I know I was struggling a little this season too much up and down and Im trying to find my game, Backlund added.

Ill keep doing it.

On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane


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