30 years ago today, November 23, 1987, Capitals’ star center Nicklas Backstrom was born in Valbo, Sweden to Anders and Catrin Backstrom. Anders was a longtime defenseman for the Brynas IF hockey team in the Swedish Elite League.
Nicklas and his older brother, Kristoffer, both became hockey players, like their father. By the 2005-2006 season, Nicklas was playing for Brynas IF and was selected as Rookie of the Year in the Swedish Elite League.
The Washington Capitals chose him with the fourth overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft in 2006. In fact, Alexander Ovechkin, their first pick from 2004, got to step up to the podium and announce the pick.
At the time of the draft, Backstrom was described as a playmaking center. He would be compared to Peter Forsberg but said he patterned his game on that of Henrik Zetterberg. While he was judged to be ready for the NHL after the draft, he decided to remain in Sweden for one more season, coming over to America for the 2007-2008 season. (Backstrom pre-draft scouting report is here)
When Backstrom arrived in the U.S., he stayed in the house of center, Michael Nylander, who had returned for a second tour of duty with the Caps in free agency. It was almost like he was another child to Nylander who had six children of his own, two boys and four girls. (Story on Backstrom and William Nylander here.)
Backstrom did well in his NHL debut with the Capitals, getting an assist on a Michael Nylander goal, as the Caps went on to beat the Atlanta Thrashers 3-1. The Caps went on to win their next two games but then became mired in a horrible slump and were 6-14-1 by Thanksgiving, resulting in Head Coach Glen Hanlon getting fired and Bruce Boudreau appointed in his place.
The first game of Boudreau’s coaching tenure was on Backstrom’s 20th birthday, November 23, 2007. It was a road game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Backstrom had started that game on the team’s fourth line, with Matt Bradley and Donald Brashear. But he ended up scoring the game winning goal in Overtime as they won 4-3.
But after Michael Nylander had a season ending injury, Backstrom was finally on the first line with Ovechkin. For the year, he finished second in the Calder Trophy Rookie of the Year race to Patrick Kane of Chicago.
For most of his career, he has been the center on Ovechkin’s line, except during periods when coaches figured that having them on separate lines might be better for the team.
Backstrom was even with Ovechkin during the NHL lockout of 2012. That year, he signed a contract with Moscow Dynamo, the KHL team where Ovechkin played. He celebrated his 25th birthday with the team when fans there presented him with birthday cake.
Since then, Backstrom has gone on to become the father of two children, Haley and Vincent, with Liza Berg, his longtime girlfriend. He is the Caps’ career leader in assists, with 553 at this writing. He became the Caps’ leader in assists, passing Michal Pivonka, on March 15, 2015 in a game where the Caps beat the Boston Bruins 2-0.
In the following home game, he was part of a pregame ceremony, with his family, where the NHL and the Washington Capitals honored that milestone.
Happy 30th birthday, Nicklas. The Washington Capitals and their fans appreciate all that you have done for the team over the years. Live long and continue to prosper.
By Diane Doyle