Wednesday, November 22, 2006

#6: Niklas Backstrom
The best players you've never heard of

Team: Minnesota Wild
Pos.: G - Ht.: 6-2 - Wt.: 196
Hometown: Helsinki, Fin.

Key stats: Backstrom may have only started two games to this point, but his numbers are nothing short of phenomenal. He's come in to games in relief of Wild starter Manny Fernandez three times this season and managed to come up with wins, and has a 3-1-1 record with a 1.78 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. Backstrom may not play a ton this season, but there's certainly potential there — and he really outplayed Fernandez in the two preseason games he came into. He was expected to battle with youngster Josh Harding for the backup role, but there really wasn't much question Backstrom deserved the role coming out of camp.

James on Niklas: The Finnish goalie with a Swedish name is a 28-year-old rookie (and not to be confused with the Nicklas Backstrom the Washington Capitals drafted in the first round this year) who made the jump to the NHL this season after a phenomenal year with Karpat of the Finnish league in 2005-06 (32-10-9, 1.68 GAA, .940 sv pct). He's been named the Finnish Elite League netminder of the year in the past, has won that league's title and backstopped his country — noted for its goaltending prowess — in more than one IIHF World Championship. His speed has been criticized in the past, and it was said he wasn't quite quick enough for the NHL — something that's yet to show in his time in North America. He's really turned heads in his relief appearances, and helped the Wild get back in games they may have otherwise lost.

Pub for Niklas:
"You can't say enough about Nik coming in and playing as well as he did," Brian Rolston told the St. Paul Pioneer Press after the Wild's 7-6 win last week in Nashville. "The D said they warmed him up for overtime by giving Kariya a couple breakaways."
"He's been practicing hard, just being around and getting all these shots in practices, it's nice that he gets a game once in a while," coach Jacques Lemaire told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in early November, when Backstrom had scantly played. "What's nicer is that he plays well."


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