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Backes Ready For Next Level - From Ultimate Blues Homer

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  • Backes Ready For Next Level - From Ultimate Blues Homer

    Wigge ain't bad, but working for the Blues now, you have to take his words w/ a grain of salt...still good to know Backes has turned into a legit prospect, I didn't realize he was 6'3" 210...thought he was another smallish guy.

    Backes Ready For The Next Level


    There were about 20 minutes between phone calls. But the theme was the same.

    St. Louis Blues General Manager Larry Pleau took time out from his lunch break on May 2 to field a few of my questions between meetings with chief scout Jarmo Kekalainen and also his professional scouts. Trying to make final decisions on who the Blues will choose with not only the first pick, but also three choices in the first 31 selections in the National Hockey League’s Entry Draft in Vancouver represent some pretty intense homework.

    Right winger David Backes was one of those names the Blues’ scouts were pouring over in 2003, before they made him their second-round pick. On May 2, he was doing some homework of his own, studying for several of his final exams at Minnesota State University at Mankato to complete his junior year in college.

    ''I’ve got a few minutes between meetings,'' Pleau said, his voice sounding rushed, yet calm and grounded. ''We’ve got a lot of very important decisions to make in the next couple of months, you know?''

    While the rest of the Blues’ world shouts on talk-radio about the size and enormous upside of defenseman Erik Johnson, the dynamic speed of center Phil Kessel, the bloodlines and character of center Jordan Staal and the quick hips and how many good things center/wing Jonathan Toews can do, the next real link to the future of the Blues is being overlooked by a lot of those so-called experts.

    ''There is a huge link to what we will be doing here next year and the year after that to what we have done at the drafts in the last three years since Jarmo Kekalainen joined this club,'' Pleau said. ''We’ve already signed Backes and we have the same decisions on who to turn pro from a list of draft choices that include Marek Schwarz (a goaltender and the team’s first pick in 2004), Carl Soderberg (a center and the second-rounder in ‘04), Roman Polak (a defenseman and the sixth-round pick in ‘04) and a couple of others.

    ''It’s a good crop, a good nucleus to use as a foundation for the future.''

    You can add winger Michal Birner, the team’s fourth-round pick from 2004, defenseman Nikita Nikitin, the fifth-rounder from that same draft as well as winger David Fredricksson, the sixth-round pick in ‘04 and right winger Ryan MacMurchy, the last pick in the 2002 draft.

    If Backes is an example of the quality of these prospects, then maybe there should be a little more conversation about the Blues’ future without the sarcastic tone of yeah-but-it’s-going-to-take-a-long-time-for-this-team-to-be-a-playoff-contender-again.

    ''Every year David has made a quantum leap in his progress,'' one scout told me after seeing him play at the Blues’ Peoria American Hockey League affiliate. ''It’s obvious how much work he has put in on his skating by the improvement in his mobility and the confidence that comes in the rest of his game. He’s a big guy with power forward written all over him ... and now he can get to those heavy traffic areas faster.''

    Pleau wouldn’t argue, especially after seeing Backes spend his own money to go over to Helsinki, Finland to an offseason specialty training program that emphasizes skating to make himself better.

    ''He’s got great instincts offensively,'' Pleau said. ''Good size (6-3, 210 pounds). Great hands and what really impresses me is his ability to protect the puck and shoot while on the move. To me, that’s the sign of a top 6 talent up front.''

    Pleau added that Backes needs to ''fill out physically and add another half step in his skating.''

    Backes left Mankato after his junior season in which he totaled 13 goals and 29 assists in 38 games with 91 penalty minutes. Those may not seem like eye-popping numbers. But then, in 12 regular-season games at Peoria, he had five goals and five assists and was plus-6. He added another goal and assist in three playoff games and was plus-3.

    But this isn’t a player measured purely on his statistics. He’s a leader. And, oh-by-the-way, he’s had nothing but straight A’s in school since the ninth grade (that includes the pre-requisite courses needed to achieve his major, which is electrical engineering), which proves he has the intangibles of smarts and skills.

    ''After the Blues drafted me, we did kind of a self-analysis of where I was and where I’d have to be to make it to the NHL,'' David said of a post-draft conversation he had with Pleau and Kekalainen. ''They told me they really like the intangibles and hand-to-eye skills I had, but skating was the weak part of my game.

    ''When Jarmo told me about the schools they have over in Finland that were better than the power skating programs he’d seen over here, I was sold. My mom wasn’t sure about buying my ticket to go over there the last couple of years, but she knew I’d pay her back if my progress paid off with a professional contract.''

    Which might have been a hard sell for Steve and Karen Backes ... if they hadn’t watched their son’s progress at Spring Lake Park High School near their home in Blaine, Minnesota and for the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League, where he had 28 goals and 41 assists along with 126 penalty minutes in 57 games in 2002-03, his draft year.

    When asked where the hockey came from, Backes just laughed, ''No hockey in my background at all. My dad played junior college baseball. I might have been headed there as well, until my friends finished the baseball season one year and went right into hockey ... and I kind of tagged along with them.''

    Having seen Backes’ love to mix it up in the traffic areas in the corners and in front of the net in a few Mankato games against the University of Minnesota and University of Wisconsin the last three years, I suggested there wasn’t much physical contact in baseball. To which he said, ''But I kind of miss the sun-flower seeds in baseball.''

    Yeah, sure, David.

    Backes could be excused for being a little giddy, cramming for his final exams AND just celebrating his birthday (he was 22 on May 1). But it’s clear he has a similar game plan for his future like Pleau and Kekalainen have for the Blues.

    ''After three years of college hockey and 15 games as a pro, I have a good vision of what I have to do to make it at the next level,'' Backes said. ''I’m not a Sidney Crosby or anything like that with a ticket straight to the NHL, but ... ''

    There was a confident determination in David’s voice when he talked about getting ''a second look,'' like he would be given every opportunity in training camp in September to show off his skills ... with a chance ... to make the Blues.

    ''I loved having the ability to play hockey as a job,'' Backes said. He then added, ''That sounds funny from a guy who has always loved playing hockey for fun ... and now I get paid to do it. Unbelievable.

    ''Since the day I was drafted by the Blues, I’ve felt I’m on pace with my expectations. At Peoria, I learned I had to play the body more and be a source of energy for my teammates.''

    So, David. How do you earn straight A’s with the Blues?

    ''My goal,'' he said, adding, ''is to hopefully become a power forward in the NHL like Keith Tkachuk ... a guy who is not fun to play against. That would be the top grade I could get.''

    That reminds me of what Kekalainen already saw from Backes on draft day, when he told me, ''To me, he's a great competitor. Loves to look into the face of an opponent and then beat him. He was clearly one of the major factors with his leadership in Lansing's championship team in the USHL.''

    Backes plans to stick around Mankato and work out with a strength and conditioning coach there and then this summer he probably will go back to Finland (maybe this time the Blues will pay for it after seeing his progress the last two years).

    ''I agree with Larry Pleau,'' Backes said. ''I have to get stronger to play like a power forward at the next level and I need to keep on working on my skating. You never quit trying to improve.''

    I posed the same What-would-David-have-to-do-to-get-straight-A’s question to Pleau.

    ''He’s ahead of where we thought he’d be when we drafted him, with the offseason work he’s done the past couple of years,'' Pleau said, reminding me that the team had David rated as a first-rounder when they selected him in the second round of the 2004 draft. ''Now, it’s just taking his progress one step forward.

    ''He stepped from college to the pros and showed nothing but positives. He continues to show us the assets to be a pretty good power forward in the NHL for a lot of years. The next step is up to him.''

    The next link to the future of the St. Louis Blues may indeed start with the first pick in the NHL Entry Draft. But you can’t forget about the part of the equation that also includes players like David Backes, Marek Schwarz, Carl Soderberg, Roman Polak and a few other Blues’ prospects.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a few other straight A grades from this bunch?

    Last edited by CSD; 05-06-2006, 12:26 PM.
    You're being fucking dramatic. You own a TV and an air mattress. That's not exactly what I'd call "a lot to lose."

  • #2
    Once I find my magnifying glass, I'll give this piece a read....

    "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
    Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
    -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by 007
      Once I find my magnifying glass, I'll give this piece a read....
      Looks fine on my screen, edit my post ya chach.
      You're being fucking dramatic. You own a TV and an air mattress. That's not exactly what I'd call "a lot to lose."

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Charlie Sheen
        Looks fine on my screen, edit my post ya chach.


        My favorite stanza:

        St. Louis Blues General Manager Larry Pleau took time out from his lunch break on May 2 to field a few of my questions between meetings with chief scout Jarmo Kekalainen and also his professional scouts. Trying to make final decisions on who the Blues will choose with not only the first pick, but also three choices in the first 31 selections in the National Hockey League’s Entry Draft in Vancouver represent some pretty intense homework.

        "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
        Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
        -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

        Comment


        • #5
          Good stuff

          I had forgotten about him.

          I don't keep up on the Blues prospects like I used to.
          Go Cards ...12 in 13.


          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Charlie Sheen
            Looks fine on my screen, edit my post ya chach.

            Fixed
            Official Sponsor of the National League Three-Peat.

            Comment


            • #7
              This part scares me..

              So, David. How do you earn straight A’s with the Blues?
              ''My goal,'' he said, adding, ''is to hopefully become a power forward in the NHL like Keith Tkachuk ... a guy who is not fun to play against. That would be the top grade I could get.''


              \'user\'user\'user
              Sponsor of Mee-Shay, Dante Culpepper & Marian Gaborik
              proud sponsor of ball-magnet

              Comment


              • #8
                ''My goal,'' he said, adding, ''is to hopefully become a power forward in the NHL like Keith Tkachuk but actually produce in the playoffs ... a guy who is not fun to play against.
                Fixed
                Go Cards ...12 in 13.


                Comment


                • #9
                  Quote:
                  ''My goal,'' he said, adding, ''is to hopefully become a power forward in the NHL like Keith Tkachuk but actually produce in the playoffs and to eat a lot of Peanut M & M's ... a guy who is not fun to play against.


                  Fixed
                  __________________

                  Fixed again
                  \'user\'user\'user
                  Sponsor of Mee-Shay, Dante Culpepper & Marian Gaborik
                  proud sponsor of ball-magnet

                  Comment

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