It’s official: Nicklas Backstrom is back for the Washington Capitals. The team activated the Swedish center from the long-term injured reserve on Wednesday. He is set to make his season debut against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Wednesday’s game will mark his first time in the lineup since May 23, when the Capitals were facing the Boston Bruins in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Backstrom missed the start of training camp and the first 28 games of the season while rehabilitating a hip injury. He did not have surgery.
“I think everybody knows what he brings. I think he was by far our best player last season. I’m just excited for him,” John Carlson said of Backstrom, who led Washington with 53 points in 55 games last season. “Whenever a guy has a longer-term injury and rehab, that can be very difficult no matter what age you are, at what point in your career you are… just excited for him knowing what he’s done for himself to be at the top of his game. A lot goes into it, mentally and physically. That’s what I’m most excited about when he comes back.”
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Backstrom was skating on his own before joining the team for practice for the first time toward the end of November. He was cleared for contact on Dec. 3, and he has been skating on the second line with Conor Sheary and T.J. Oshie over the last couple of practices.
His return is a welcome one for Washington, especially with Evgeny Kuznetsov unavailable due to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. Kuznetsov has been outstanding with 30 points through 28 games this season while centering the top line. Backstrom could be the one to fill in for him in that spot between Alex Ovechkin and Aliaksei Protas.
With No. 19 back in the mix, the Capitals will likely have to make some roster decisions with his salary coming back on the books.