Nicklas Backstrom has been a big part of Washington's success this season. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
It’s only fitting that on a day when Nicklas “Get On My” Backstrom was clearly the best player on the ice, he would be overshadowed in the aftermath by his teammate who played a mere four shifts before being ejected for a boarding major.
That’s Nicklas with a “c,” barely a talking point because of the teammate with the “C.”
Yes Backstrom was, we hope without hesitation, named the No. 1 star following the Capitals thrilling 4-3 come-from-behind, overtime win at the United Center in Chicago.
He tallied twice, including the winner on an end-to-end rush and set up a third.
He even managed to score that winner after breaking up a Troy Brouwer chance, a chance he set up with a turnover outside his own blueline.
Talk about righting a wrong!
It would be hard to quantify how many times this snub has occurred in Backstrom’s young career – currently 233 consecutive games played and counting – but one can safely assume that playing next to the dynamic presence that is Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom may be taking a backseat among the headline writers for, oh, about the next dozen years or so.
At the NHL Network, we recently rolled out a Top 10 of the Capitals most impressive wins this season.
Going through the game recaps and stories, and re-viewing the highlights, the one thing that stood out was Backstrom’s uncanny ability to be just as big a force as Ovechkin, but with perhaps a third of the fanfare.
Just think back to the start of this season.
Ovechkin drew all the attention for three consecutive three-point games and nine points after his first four.
Backstrom merely produced games with three assists, two assists, three assists and two goals in the same stretch.
But there’s been so much more.
Two five-point games.
A four-point game.
Fourth in league scoring.
The impressive ironman streak.
And he earned a standing ovation March 4 for his shot-blocking prowess during a Tampa Bay 5-on-3, a sequence in which Backstrom had no stick, but performed more like the Wild netminder with whom he shares a name.
Backstrom is actually 11th among forwards in blocked shots (53), tied for sixth in plus/minus (plus-31), a winner of 50 percent of his faceoffs and a snazzy 5-for-12 in shootouts during his career.
He outthinks his opponents, gains inside position in the tough areas, takes as good as he gives when it comes to hitting and being hit and has increased his shots on goal every season as well. Easy to see why he’s gone from 14, to 22 and now 28 and counting in the goal department.
And here’s where it gets really good.
Wayne Gretzky, Peter Stastny and Nicklas Backstrom.
The only three players in the history of the NHL to record at least 55 assists in each of their first three seasons.
It’s a note we’ve been tracking for some time now thanks to the outstanding Capitals media relations department.
And the more it gets repeated, the more impressive it is.
Gretzky, the greatest player the game has ever seen, posted 86, 109 and 120 assists in his first three NHL seasons with the Oilers.
Stastny, the second leading scorer in the 1980s behind The Great One, put up 70, 93 and 77 helpers in his first three with the Nordiques.
And now Backstrom, who has seasons of 55, 66 and 55 assists on record to date, has joined that exclusive club.
While it may seem unfair to compare the young Swede to those two Hall of Famers, there are actually a few others I could see him rivaling over the next 15 years.
Bryan Trottier, Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic.
Trottier debuted in the NHL with the Islanders in ‘75-76 and recorded 63, 42 and 77 assists during his first three seasons. His career resume would include one Art Ross, one Hart and one Conn Smythe Trophy. Only 14 players have more career points than Trottier.
Drafted in 1983, Yzerman, like Backstrom, was selected fourth overall. His first three seasons produced assist totals of 48, 59 and an injury-impacted 28. The career Red Wing and sixth leading scorer in NHL history never did win an Art Ross or a Hart, but can proudly lay claim to a Lester B. Pearson Award (as voted on by his peers), a Conn Smythe and a Selke Trophy, the latter earned in his 17th season.
Joe Sakic broke in with Quebec in 1988-89. He would set up 39, 63 and 61 goals over his first three years. And before checking out after nearly 1,400 games played, Sakic captured a Hart, a Pearson and a Conn Smythe, before settling in at No. 8 on the NHL’s all-time scoring list.
All three averaged just more than 1.1 points per game.
Backstrom is at 1.03.
All three were multiple Cup winners, combining for 11 rings.
Backstrom awaits his first championship chance, but at the very least has averaged a point per game in his two post-season appearances to date.
And, like Backstrom, they all wore No. 19.
Probably just a strange coincidence.
As highly accomplished as Trottier, Yzerman and Sakic were, they often played in the shadows of greatness on a league-wide scale thanks to Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
Playing in the Crosby-Malkin-Ovechkin era, Backstrom can already relate.
And yet he seems to require no assistance in finding his way.
Brian Duff is a host of On The Fly on the NHL Network. Like his minor hockey days (playing goalie, defense and forward) his broadcasting career has been all over the map. In radio and TV from Medicine Hat to Edmonton, Toronto to Ottawa and back, Brian has been with the NHL Network since 2007 and has been covering the game for nearly 15 years. Read more of his THN.com Blog HERE.