A Capitals spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that center Nicklas Backstrom is visiting with “a specialist” before reporting to the team’s training camp, which is expected to begin on Sunday.
Backstrom, 25, missed 40 games last season with concussion symptoms. He was checked head-first into the boards during a game with Moscow Dynamo on Dec. 26 and has not played since. Moscow Dynamo first reported the injury as a neck bruise.
“Nick and his agent informed us that they are being proactive with his injury and decided to visit a specialist prior to training camp,” the Capitals told CSNWashington.com in an email. “Obviously, as you know, until camp officially starts teams cannot perform physicals on any player.”
Voice messages left Wednesday for Backstrom’s agent, Mark Levine, were not immediately retuned.
Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said he has talked with Backstrom since his injury.
“He’s a little disappointed at the timing of it right now,” said Brouwer, who hit the ice with the Caps on Wednesday for the first time since the lockout ended.
“Because we‘ve waited so long to play he wants to come back. He wants to be in camp and he wants to be around the guys.
“I think that’s what really kills him the most. He kind of feels like he‘s letting his teammates down, But we know how finicky injuries can be and we know he wants to be here.”
Backstrom was having a phenomenal season last year before his season was interrupted on Jan. 3 on a open-hit ice from Rene Bourque, who was with the Calgary Flames at the time. Backstrom had 13 goals and 29 assists in 38 games prior to his concussion, which kept him out of the Caps lineup until March 31.
“For me personally, I think this team revolves around Nicky Backstrom,” Brouwer said. “The way he controls the play, controls the puck. When he’s out there thinking clearly there’s not many players better than him.”
If Backstrom is unable to participate in the Capitals’ training camp, veteran center Mike Ribeiro would likely take his spot on a top line with Alex Ovechkin and Brouwer. Last season Ribeiro recorded 18 goals and 45 assists in 74 games for the Dallas Stars.
“I think his presence out there, to be able to slow down the play, control the puck, control the play, he’s a lot like Nicky,” Brouwer said. “He can make those big plays. He can make guys around him a lot better.”
Matt Hendricks, who also made his return to informal practices, said that if Backstrom is sidelined an extended period, he’ll be missed in the locker room just as much as on the ice.
“Nicky’s one of our go-to guys in the locker room and on the ice,” he said. “He’s a leader on our team and we’re going to miss him, without a doubt. We’ll miss the way he plays and the way he produces, but we’re going to do our best to win hockey games without him if he’s not going to be around.”
One thing is clear. With a long career ahead of him, the Capitals seem intent on allowing Backstrom the time he needs to recover from his injury.
“Hopefully, nothing is too serious and it’s not going to drag out too long,” Brouwer said. “He’s got to make sure he’s fully healthy and make sure he’s ready to go because we don’t want him to come back early just because it’s the start of the season and miss more time.
“He’s going to do what’s best for him. We’re anxious to get him back, but at the same time we want a fully healthy Nicky Backstrom because he’s a phenomenal player when he is.”