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Wherever he sets up, Backstrom is always looking to pass. Nylander says he has never played with a center who is more patient with the puck. Boudreau says every pass is calculated.

Backstrom assisted on 21 of Ovechkin's NHL-best 56 goals and has a special synergy with No. 8. But he has learned to shoot more this year: His goal total increased from 14 to 22.

“That's the natural feeling for young players - to over-respect the players around them,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice says. “[Young centers] get more comfortable trusting what they see, and then they start taking their shots. When that happens, their passing becomes more dangerous because they're passing at the right time instead of forcing it.

“Then, all of a sudden you have a helluva player.”

Caps assistant coach Dean Evason says the staff often slows down video to watch Backstrom's feeds.

“Aerial passes, sauce passes over sticks - he has the ability of all great passers, to know when to throw a hard pass and when to throw a soft pass so you can one-time it,” Evason says. “And he puts it in the right spot so the defenders can't get to it but the player can shoot it.”

Laich said he thinks Backstrom can develop into a 30-goal scorer, but Backstrom gets just as much pleasure from setting up Ovechkin.

“He's a better shot than me,” Backstrom says with a laugh. “But sometimes I try to make the pass too much of the time.”

'My dream came true'

His BMW parked outside, Backstrom doesn't even need a menu at his favorite Italian restaurant in Arlington. The standard has been ordered again: chicken marsala, side of spaghetti and sparkling water.

In the United States for less than two years, Backstrom has become comfortable with his surroundings.

“I can say my dream came true when I got here,” he says. “When I started to get better the middle of last year, I started to just love it. It's so much fun.”

He goes to movies with Green, Ovechkin, Laich and Alexander Semin (“like normal kids”). He can give a rundown of his favorite restaurants in Georgetown (“I'm not a big cooker”). He has visited several museums and landmarks (“You're living in such a great city with a lot of history, I think it's something you have to learn about”). And he can navigate the maze that is the District's traffic grid (“That was a big issue for me - the biggest issue”).

“[Ovechkin] is the bubbly, energetic guy on the ice and off the ice; Nicky is calm and relaxed,” Laich says. “He's come out of his shell a little bit this year. Still a little shy but a great kid.”

Despite playing nearly 40 more games a season than in Sweden, Backstrom was ready for a long playoff run last year, only to see it end with a Game 7 overtime loss to Philadelphia. A second regular season behind him, he wants to help his team to a Stanley Cup like fellow Swedes Zetterberg, Franzen and, of course, Forsberg.

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