Nicklas Backstrom has been in the U.S. since Sunday, but the Capitals’ 25-year-old star center has not laced up a pair of skates since he was checked head-first into the boards in a KHL game on Dec 26.
The Capitals confirmed on Wednesday that Backstrom was seeing “a specialist” in Michigan, but would not confirm whether it was a concussion specialist. His agent, Mark Levine, declined to return messages left for him on Wednesday and Thursday.
Despite the lack of information being released on Backstrom’s visit to Michigan, there were positive reports circulating around Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Thursday.
Asked if players were worried about Backstrom, teammate Brooks Laich said, “not overly.”
“I haven’t talked to him the last couple days, but I heard good things today from players in [the locker room] about him.”
Backstrom missed 40 games with concussion symptoms last season and the Caps struggled to make the playoffs without him. They finished 23-16-3 with Backstrom in the lineup and 19-16-5 without him.
“I haven’t seen him but I talked to him quite a bit over the lockout,” Laich said. “He’s a tough kid. I think people underestimate how tough Nicky is. He might not fight but he’s one of the toughest guys on our team. He plays through a lot that people don’t see.
“It hurts him here [tapping his heart] to not be on the ice every single day. He’s a huge part of this team and when he’s ready to play we’ll welcome him back with open arms.
The Capitals officially open training camp on Sunday and the hope is that if Backstrom is unable to join them immediately he will be cleared sometime next week as they prepare for their season opener, which likely will be in Tampa on Jan. 19.
If Backstrom is not cleared to play, veteran center Mike Ribeiro is likely to replace him on a top line with Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer.
Ribeiro, acquired from Dallas during the offseason in exchange for Cody Eakin and a second-round draft pick, was second on the Stars in scoring with 63 points, 45 of them assists.
“He’s like a spineless jellyfish, like a slinky,” Laich said. “You can’t hit him. You go to hit him and he just wiggles through you. I don’t know how he does it.”
As for Ribeiro’s diamond earring, gold chains and baggy pants, Laich said he recalled seeing the veteran center after a game in Dallas.
“I was like, ‘Holy Cow! Somebody put a mirror in front of that guy,’” Laich said. “It’s not a bad thing. If we were all the same we’d be all boring. I think he’s going to bring some flare for sure.”