There's always at least one player in every sports draft that will take a fall from where they were projected to get drafted—usually for a reason.
Seen in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, highly touted Russian defenseman Dmitry Kulikov fell into the Florida Panthers' lap at the 14th spot of the draft. Most experts agreed the drop was due to the always present possibility of the player feeling homesick and going back home to the new and improved Kontinental Hockey League.
With Mikael Backlund being ranked second among European skaters by some in the 2007 draft, there was no evident reason why he fell to the Flames at the 24th spot, but for a club notoriously bad at drafting it was good to see a highly ranked prospect enter the Flames family.
Backlund was born on March 17th, 1989 in Vasteras, Sweden. You can never go wrong when drafting a Swede; Sweden produces some of the best passers and best two-way players in the game and if Backlund reaches his potential, he will be among the best passers and two-way players in the game.
Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Redwings said it best—if you don't play defense in Sweden, you don't play.
After having a good campaign at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa, Backlund was called upon to play for the Calgary Flames. Backlund impressed in his first game, but was still a raw talent. After the game he was assigned to the WHL's Kelowna Rockets for the 2008-09 season (where he helped the Rockets to a second place finish in the Memorial Cup).
Impressing during training camp was not enough for Backlund to start the current season in the NHL. He was assigned to Calgary's AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat.
Twenty-two points in 47 games was enough for Backlund to get called up to the big team. While he only recorded a goal and an assist in nine games for the Flames, he was very consistent during that stretch.
When the Olympics came it was no surprise he was sent back down to the AHL so he could continue to develop while the stars were off competing in Vancouver.
During the Olympics, Backlund tore up the AHL. In seven games he recorded 10 points, which he accredited to the confidence gained from the call-up and overall experience he gained from those nine games in the NHL.
Overall, Backlund has the potential to be one of the most complete players in the NHL. On the pace he has been on since coming to North America, it looks like he will have no problem reaching or even exceeding potential.
Backlund's elite passing, great vision, and soft hands would make him a great player to play with Flames captain Jarome Iginla. He's no slug either, along with his strong defensive play, Backlund's speed could make him a good secondary penalty killer.
But with Backlund still needing time to develop and Iginla not getting any younger, this tandem-to-be may never see the potential it could.
If only we could see Backlund in his prime lined up with Iginla in his prime. Maybe next season we can get close enough to that—and no doubt, it will be a sight to see.