Capitals' Top 25 impact players for 2014-15: No. 2: Nicklas Backstrom

Capitals' Top 25 impact players for 2014-15: No. 2: Nicklas Backstrom
August 21, 2014, 8:45 am
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(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

As part of our summer countdown series, Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley breaks down his Top 25 impact players for the Washington Capitals' upcoming 2014-15 season.

No. 2: Nicklas Backstrom, Center

Age: 26

2014-15 Salary: $6.5 million [$6.7 million cap hit]

2013-14 stats: 82 games, 18 goals, 61 assists, 79 points, minus-20, 54 penalty minutes, 19:48 average ice time

Projected 2014-15 stats: 80 games, 22 goals, 62 assists, 84 points, plus-10, 42 penalty minutes, 19:45 average ice time

Analysis: Talk to just about anyone around the NHL and they will tell you that to stop the Capitals you must first stop Nicklas Backstrom. Blessed with superior vision and uncanny hockey instincts, the 26-year-old Swede is the engine that runs the Capitals. He was tied with Alex Ovechkin for the team lead in points last season with 79 and led the club in assists [61] and power-play points [44]. But now entering the eighth year of his career, Backstrom can be better in all areas of the game and the arrival of Barry Trotz should make that happen. Backstrom managed just 11 goals and 34 points at even-strength last season and his 54 penalty minutes and 27 minors were career highs. Backstrom has excellent defensive instincts but if he’s going to rebound from his career-worst minus-20 season he and Ovechkin will need to make a conscious effort to play better positional hockey in all three zones. Having Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen on the ice for most of their shifts should help. So would a two-way winger who can complement Backstrom and Ovechkin. That could be Brooks Laich next season, depending on the development of rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov. If Kuznetsov can play his way into the role of No. 2 center, he could draw some of the defensive assignments away from Backstrom, which would make the Caps a more dangerous team than they were a year ago. Backstrom declined an invitation to play for Team Sweden in the 2014 World Championships and he is beginning to distance himself from the unfortunate end to last winter’s Olympic Games, when he was ruled ineligible to play in Sweden’s gold-medal game. With six years and $43 million remaining on his contract with the Capitals, Backstrom should be on a mission to raise the bar next season and become one of the NHL’s top all-around centermen.