There are two forwards on the roster the Washington Capitals cannot do without. Nicklas Backstrom is going to do everything in his power to make sure the team isn’t missing one of them to start the 2015-16 season.
Along with captain Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom is an invaluable piece of Washington’s offense. But there’s a chance he will unavailable for the Capitals’ season opener against the New Jersey Devils on October 10 after undergoing hip surgery during the offseason.
Backstrom had an arthroscopic procedure performed on his hip on May 27. He began feeling pain in the hip in November but managed to play through it, recording 78 points while appearing in all 82 games for the Capitals.
The day after the surgery, the Capitals believed the center would be ready in time for the start of training camp. Backstrom did not go that far when recently interviewed by Swedish radio station Sverigesradio, stating he hoped to be able to play in Washington’s season opener against the New Jersey Devils on October 10.
“It’s going to take some more time. We will just have to wait and see how things go,” said the 27-year-old, who was relieved to finally be able to address the problem. “I felt it was time to do something about it. … I have felt it during the season and wanted to get rid of it.”
The injury did not slow down Backstrom, who led the league with 60 assists last season. He has skated in all 82 games five times over his eight campaigns in the NHL and also played the entire 48-game schedule during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
Backstrom’s durability has benefited Ovechkin immensely over the years. The Swede has played a major role in the Russian superstar’s five Maurice Richard Trophy wins, setting up a large number of Ovechkin’s goals.
Backstrom was especially helpful this past season, assisting on 22 of Ovechkin’s NHL-high 53 goals. The setup man extraordinaire enters 2015-16 as the Capitals’ all-time leader in assists with 427 — seven more than Ovechkin.
Selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, Backstrom was more of a double threat when he began his NHL career. He scored 22 goals in his sophomore season of 2008-09 and followed up with a career-high 33 tallies the next campaign.
He has, however, alway had a knack for setting up goals. Backstrom registered 55 assists in his 2007-08 rookie season and has collected 60 or more four times, maxing out at 68 in 2009-10 – the only campaign in which he reached triple digits in points (101).
Backstrom will have the opportunity to help a new linemate score goals next season, as he is expected to center a unit consisting of Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie. Acquired from the St. Louis Blues in an offseason trade, Oshie has hit the 20-goal plateau only once in his seven-year career, netting 21 in 2013-14.
Washington is doing its best to help take some of the offensive burden off the shoulders of Backstrom and Ovechkin. Youngsters such as Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov are emerging into scoring threats, while general manager Brian MacLellan has brought in experience in Oshie and three-time Stanley Cup champion Justin Williams this offseason.
The Capitals would love nothing better than to have Backstrom in the lineup at the start of 2015-16. But they now have some scoring depth, so the talented veteran can take his time and make a full recovery before stepping back out on the ice.