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Ep. 8: FLAMES UP CLOSE with Ryan Leslie, guest Mikael Backlund

Ryan Leslie sits down with Flames centre Mikael Backlund to talk about his long journey from first-round pick to his current breakout season.

Mikael Backlund #11 of the Calgary Flames celebratse his game winning overtime goal against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 3, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Mikael Backlund #11 of the Calgary Flames celebratse his game winning overtime goal against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 3, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey.

Mikael Backlund's story comes down to expectations, perseverance, the journey and his arrival.

A first round pick back in 2007, the two-way centre felt the pressure right away.  From playing back home in Sweden to a Calgary Flames training camp, to stints in junior with Kelowna and the American League in Abbotsford, there have been plenty of hard lessons for the Flames centre.

Thanks to injuries, rigourous conditioning and tough losses, there were plenty of moments where Backlund thought about packing it up and calling it a day.

"I had those thoughts. Is this for me?  Am I a good enough player to be here?" Backlund recalled.

In an exit meeting with then-Flames coach Brent Sutter, Backlund was told it he didn't pick up his play he wouldn't be in the NHL, and his one-year, one-way contract could be his last.   

It was the wake-up call Backlund needed. 

He got in the best shape of his life. A lockout allowed him to reset after playing against some of the best overseas. He adopted a whole new outlook.

Backlund couldn't hide from the expectations. While he was finding his game, he was also trying to find his way.

An even-keeled, easy-going, even likeable player, his good nature and overall makeup would sometimes allow him to be on the receiving end of teammates ribbing. Not unique to hockey team mates, but never easy to endure. Yet, he kept fighting.

Anyone who followed number 11's career knows there was always trade talk that followed him. A few years ago, he admits that he knew he was on the trade block.

But the deal never materialized. Since then, he was determined to earn the trust of the fans and the organization.

From charity to work here in the community, to a friendly approach with the media, to representing his country internationally, to consistent play night in, night out for the Flames — which may even earn him a Selke Trophy nod — he's earned that trust.

Yes, under the watchful eye of the Flames faithful,  Mikael Backlund has arrived.

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