The way Nicklas Backstrom has been playing this season, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before he once again made his presence known as one of the best point-producers in the League - and last night he did just that, sliding into a tie for the League lead in points with Patrick Kane thanks to a three-point effort in the Caps' win over the Jets.
Of course, last night's performance (and really the season as a whole) has only been further proof of what we already knew, which is that Backstrom is a phenomenally talented - and phenomenally underrated - player.
It's not just that he's leading the League in scoring right now, although that in and of itself is pretty impressive considering the field of players who are behind him (i.e. almost all of them). It goes without saying that he leads the Caps in points, as well, but here's a quick laundry list of some of his other accomplishments so far this season:
- Tied for the League lead (with Claude Giroux) in power-play points with 27
- 24 of those 27 power-play points were assists, tied with Keith Yandle for most in the NHL
- Tied for eighth (alongside Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares and Steven Stamkos) in even-strength points with 36
- Ranked fourth in assists/60 with 2.19, behind Joe Thornton, Jakub Voracek and Derek Stepan
- Top-25 in faceoff win percentage, with a success rate of 54.3% in the circle
- Even-strength CF% of 54%, the highest it's been in four years and trailing only Ovechkin and Andre Burakovsky in that category among all Caps... with less favorable zone starts
- Top-20 in the League in takeaways with 43, which leads the Caps
- Fifth in franchise history with 557 points, passing Dale Hunter (in a little over 300 fewer games played)
- Third in franchise history with 412 assists, behind only Ovechkin and Michal Pivonka (418)
- Three multi-goal games, including last night, bringing his career total to 19
- 20 multi-point games, tied for the most among all Caps this year with (who else?) Ovechkin and a mark which leads the League - his 154 multi-point games are the fifth-most of any NHLer since his rookie season
It's not just the stats and the points, of course; what makes Backstrom special and helps him to hit those high totals is something less-easily quantifiable: his vision on the ice. It's what enables him to make the "did he really just do that??" pass, to find Ovechkin wherever he may be on the ice, and to be one of the League's best (if not the best) power-play quarterbacks.
Because while Ovechkin gets plenty of credit for making the Caps' power play hum with his unstoppable shot, and plenty of it is deserved... there's no question that the team's success with the extra man runs through Backstrom. He wields his stick like a conductor's baton, effortlessly melding the different instruments together to make beautiful music - something which was on full display last night, as the Caps put up three power-play goals on the Jets, and which has been a major factor of their power-play dominance for the better part of the last three seasons.
Despite how frequently people mention him as being underrated, it still seems to be the case - even as he has proven himself to be a remarkably consistent and highly productive player. He is one of just ten players to operate at a point-per-game pace since his rookie season of 2007-08, with the eighth-highest point total and the fourth-highest assist-per-game pace over that span (tied with Ryan Getzlaf), recently picked up his 400th-career assist (one of just 30 players in League history to do so before the end of his 8th season)... and yet has never been an All Star, has never been a finalist for the Hart, and has cracked the top-10 in Selke voting just once.
But as we've seen, that seems to be the way he likes it. He is, as teammate Brooks Laich has noted many times, the NHL's quietest superstar, happy to let his much flashier linemate get the glory and the spotlight.
Still, while the rest of the NHL may just now be waking up to his abilities, they've always been coming through loud and clear for the Caps, who can't say enough good things about their teammate - and for all of us Caps fans, as well. There's no question that getting to watch him make magic on the ice night after night is one of the great privileges of rooting for this team... and hopefully will continue to be for many years to come.