This is the next in a series of stories ranking the 24 most important players on the 2011-12 St. Louis Blues.
No. 4 David Backes
Sometimes the best player on a team is the captain, like Sidney Crosby. Other times he can be a steadying force on the ice and in the dressing room. Dallas Drake comes to mind. Backes was the best player on the Blues last year and is growing into that calming influence on the team. So don't complain he's not No. 1 because I have good reasons and you should wait until the final story to call me a moron.
Backes led the Blues last year with 31 goals. He was near the lead with 31 assists. He recorded more than 200 hits. He didn't hit 100 minutes in penalties which is important. Deservedly, Backes was the Blues' representative at the All-Star game last season. That all leads to one conclusion: David Backes is the face of the St. Louis Blues.
We've written here on the site and in the Game Time paper (you buying one tonight?) that the Blues have seemed a little rudderless. Hockey fans can name the top players on about every team around the league. After Keith Tkachuk retired, who had taken that mantle as the guy people associate with the team? It was kind of Backes, maybe a little T.J. Oshie or even Jaroslav Halak. But now the big kid who wears No. 42 from Minnesota who was actually studying to be an electrical engineer if this hockey thing didn't work out is that guy. Frankly, he deserves it.
It was clear early in the offseason that Backes was taking a bigger role in the organization. At the NHL Draft in June, he was there at the Blues' table to welcome new players to the franchise. That's a cool and classy way make them feel good about getting picked by the Blues while also quickly getting them in the mindset that they're now an NHL prospect and in a few years could be playing on the same team as Backes.
He is active in the community with animal rescue groups. He and his wife are big supporters of the Humane Society in St. Charles County. When the Blues make publicized visits to local hospitals, Backes is there. But that doesn't mean he only goes when there are cameras. In an interview Friday with Puck Daddy, Backes was asked what it's like to play himself in a video game.
I have not played a video game in a really long time, but I've got a friend in town who has Down's Syndrome and I played PlayStation against him. He insists on being the Blues and he insists on my being the Blues too.
The bottom line is that Backes plays hockey the right way. He's physical, he's responsible in his own end. He passes the puck about as often as he shoots it. He can drop the gloves if he needs to. He plays in front of the net and in traffic. He's a strong skater. I could go on. Of all the players on the Blues' roster, he is right now the most established and rock solid. But I think he's close to his ceiling. Unless he changes how he plays, Backes won't see a big jump in goals or assists. That's not a bad thing. But it means there are a couple guys who still have some room to grow that I will argue are more important on this team.
Three more to go. What time does the sun come up?