How the Capitals first met star center Nicklas Backstrom

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Ryan Wormeli
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How the Capitals first met star center Nicklas Backstrom originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

After Thursday night, the Capitals will have enjoyed a whopping 1,000 career games with star center Nicklas Backstrom playing in red, white and blue (and occasionally gold as well).

Backstrom is one of the best centers in hockey, consistently among the league leaders in assists each season. The franchise is honoring him ahead of his milestone game Thursday night, nearly 15 years after selecting him with the fourth overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft.

The Caps were thrilled to be able to pick him at number four, but they had been keeping their eyes on the young prospect much longer than just that draft year.

"I had the opportunity to see him play for the under-18 Swedish team in a couple tournaments the year before his draft year. And you don’t have those kids under a microscope because it’s not their draft year, but they still jump out at you if they’re a talented player," Washington assistant GM Ross Mahoney told NBC Sports Washington ahead of Thursday's game. "And I remember Nick jumping out at us, in watching the games, as a highly intelligent player, obviously very skilled."

Mahoney was the Capitals' director of amateur scouting at the time, and he had heard good things about Backstrom already. One of the most impressive parts of his game, in Mahoney's eyes, was his maturity level on the ice.

"We were gonna watch him play in his draft year, watched him play in the elite league with men. And he didn’t play on the fourth line, you know he was one of the major contributors on that team," Mahoney said. "So you had that opportunity. And then we saw him at the World Juniors in Vancouver that year, and once again one of the best players on the under-20 team for Sweden. So he was even better than advertised."

The Capitals knew one of Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews or Backstrom would be available at fourth overall and were happy to take any center, though Mahoney admits Backstrom was higher on their draft board than fourth. Even when other teams came calling about a trade for the pick, the Capitals held onto their selection because they were that enamored with Backstrom's potential next to Alex Ovechkin, who had gone first overall two years prior.

A lot more goes into scouting in any professional sport than just watching film and interviewing prospects in the months leading up to the draft. For the Capitals, their due diligence early on helped them land one of the most impactful players in franchise history and a key piece to their first Stanley Cup.

The Capitals are taking on the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night on NBC Sports Washington for Nicklas Backstrom's 1,000th career game. Tune in at 6 p.m. for Caps Pregame Live to see the full interview with Assistant GM Ross Mahoney, preview the game and break down Backstrom's impact ahead of puck drop.