As Nick Backstrom continues to progress back from injury, predicting where he would fit
Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom has been back practicing with the Capitals and has been progressing since getting hip surgery in the offseason. Backstrom finally wore a normal practice jersey during Saturdays practice, skating as an extra.
Reports are that Backstrom is still a ways away from returning to the Capitals, as he needs to see his hip holds up in full contact drills and play. Backstrom again coming off a hip injury only played in 47 games last season not including playoffs but was still productive with six goals and 25 assists.
Backstrom at age 35 with multiple hip injuries does not have the speed that he used to have, and he was never really a speed guy.
Backstrom has typically centered the first or second line. Right now for the Capitals Dylan Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov have been the first and second line centers. It is safe to say that Strome and Kuznetsov are not going to leave the Caps lineup any time soon.
Lars Eller and Nick Dowd have consistently centered the Capitals third and fourth lines. Both Eller and Dowd have been playing a good physical style of hockey on the bottom two lines. Eller and Dowds stat lines are very comparable, Eller has six goals and six assist and Dowd has five goals and five assists.
Backstrom is still a playmaking center who can quarterback a player play and makes very crisp passes. The Capitals will find a way to get Backstrom into the lineup.
I think the Capitals could do one of two things with Backstrom. They could put Backstrom on the third line which is generally Marcus Johansson and Anthony Mantha playing wing. Johansson and Mantha have play making ability and speed to help make up for Backstroms lack of speed. In this scenario, Eller would be forced to the healthy scratches or fourth line. It is hard to take Dowd out of the lineup because he is one of the Caps best faceoff centers and defensive forwards.
Another scenario, could be Backstrom being put on the second line which has had Sonny Milano and T.J. Oshie playing the wings. Milano would be the only speed guy on this line but it could still be effective. Oshie and Backstrom have a lot of experience playing with each other and are both elite passers. Oshie provides toughness on the line and all forwards play hard. The downfall would be if they ever faced a pure speed line it may be difficult for them. In this scenario, Kuznetsov would move to the third line, Eller is a healthy scratch again. The third line would be boosted more with Kuznetsov on it.
Another thing to consider as well is if Tom Wilson comes back around the same time as Backstrom. Then the lines may all be completely different. The Caps will be a lot deeper and have a lot more playmaking ability by adding Backstrom and Wilson.
Backstrom would be best served with having at least one speedy winger. All and all it will be a good problem to have when Backstrom comes back. I do think Eller will be the center that is a healthy scratch when Backstrom comes back.