When Drew Helleson received the news that he was being traded to the Anaheim Ducks in a package for long-time Duck Josh Manson, he wasn’t surprised. In fact, he was excited. “I had a feeling for a couple days there leading up to it so I wasn’t too surprised by it,” said Helleson in a Zoom call yesterday. “But it’s exciting. You get an opportunity to go to Southern California and prove yourself so I’m excited about it.”
Helleson joins a Ducks organization full of former teammates from his hockey journey up to this point. He reunites with childhood friend Jackson LaCombe, who played with him on the Jr. Kings, at Shattuck St. Mary’s and on the 2021 gold medal-winning United States team at the World Juniors.
Helleson is also back in the same organization as former U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) teammate Trevor Zegras. Zegras reached out to him mere minutes after the trade was finalized, excited at the prospect of potentially playing with his former teammate and friend once again (from, ‘Drew Helleson on his bond with Trevor Zegras, and an update from Ducks GM Pat Verbeek as the trade deadline near’, The Athletic, 03/16/22).
Helleson said that he hadn’t spoken to anyone else in the Ducks’ organization aside from Zegras and general manager Pat Verbeek yet and that he was just waiting to get settled in down in San Diego, where he will be heading to this weekend after signing an entry-level contract with the Ducks earlier this week.
Helleson’s Boston College Career Comes to a Close
Turning pro means that Helleson will be forgoing his senior year with Boston College, where he spent the last three seasons. BC’s season ended at the hands of Northeastern University last weekend and there was a high expectancy that Helleson would turn pro, especially after his relocation to the Ducks organization.
“It just kind of felt like home and felt like the right decision for me,” said Helleson when asked about his decision to play for Boston College. “(Playing there) was awesome. I learned a lot from Coach (Jerry) York. Obviously, he’s a legend and he’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame for a reason. So any time you can learn from a guy like that who’s won as much as he has, it’s definitely something that you’ve got to take advantage of and try to learn as much as you can.”
The addition of former NHL defenseman Brooks Orpik to the BC coaching staff during the 2020-21 NCAA season gave Helleson, a defenseman himself, another outlet to draw information from. Orpik played 16 seasons in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, winning two Stanley Cups and playing over 1,000 games.
“(Orpik’s) one of those guys that when he speaks, everyone’s dialed in and paying attention to him just because he’s been there,” said Helleson. “He’s won two Stanley Cups, played a long career and you never hear a bad word about the guy. It’s kind of similar to Yorkie. When you get a chance to learn from someone like that, you’ve got to take advantage of it and he was really good with us and especially the defensemen.”
Already fairly productive in his own end, Helleson arrived at BC with the idea that he wanted to become more well-rounded and improve his offensive production. He did just that, upping his points total with every passing season.
“I knew I was going to get more of an opportunity to be that guy (during my sophomore year so) off the ice I got a lot stronger (and) became a better skater. I think a lot of it comes with we had a really good team all three years I was there. You can’t do that if you’re not playing with good players so you’ve got to give a lot of credit to those guys too.”
Helleson Has Plenty of International Experience
Throughout his young hockey career, Helleson has played with a number of high-end talents. Notable names include current NHLers Jack Hughes and Cole Caufield as well as Zegras and the trio of Matt Boldy, Spencer Knight and Alex Newhook, whom Helleson played alongside at Boston College. The USNTDP teams that Helleson was a part of also included players like Alex Turcotte and Cam York, who are still attempting to carve out everyday roles with their respective organizations. York, in particular, is one of Helleson’s closest friends.
The talent level of these U.S. teams was astronomical and predictably, they cruised past the competition for the most part. A stunning loss to Russia in the 2019 U18 World Juniors semifinal derailed what was otherwise a terrific tournament for the Americans, who couldn’t solve Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov.
“We had an unreal team,” said Helleson. “It was a tough ending. Those two years (with the NTDP), that’s the tournament you work for and look forward to, but I learned a lot from playing with those guys and competing against them every day in practice so (it was) another good stop in my journey so far.”
Many of the same players from those USNTDP teams were also a part of the American team that won gold at the 2021 World Juniors. Though, with Helleson registering the primary assist on Turcotte’s game-winning goal in the gold medal game against Canada, the gold medal stands as Helleson’s favorite achievement. “I can’t really top that.”
Helleson has come a long way from living in Farmington, which currently has a population of about 23,000. Not only has he spent time on both coasts of the United States playing hockey, but he also represented the U.S. at the 2022 Winter Olympics. When the NHL decided not to send players to the Olympics, an opportunity arose for prospects like Helleson to find a spot on the roster.
“It was awesome, to get over there and get that experience. Not that many people get that (opportunity) so when the opportunity came, I had to do it, I couldn’t say no. We were a pretty young team but we had some older guys that were great to us.
“They were open to as many questions as (we) young guys had to ask, always willing to give us pointers. Learning from those guys and competing against stronger guys, a lot of it comes down to body position, so when you’re playing against stronger guys, just putting yourself in better positions to defend and get out of your d-zone quickly.
“(The older guys) taught us younger guys a lot––kind of about the pro game and what it’s like to take care of yourself––so it was a great experience to get over there. I met a ton of different athletes that played different sports and I got to watch a ton of events. It was an amazing experience, it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Helleson’s Next Steps
Now that he’s turned pro and expected to play in his first American Hockey League (AHL) game as soon as this Tuesday, Helleson now finds himself in the same shoes that former college teammates Boldy and Newhook found themselves in last season.
“It’s kind of crazy to see guys that you’ve played with growing up in the NHL. Obviously, I’m happy for those guys. It’s exciting watching your buddies live out their dream and you see how excited they are.
“You can kind of learn from them too because you pick their brain too (because) they went through the same last year with signing the contract and turning pro so it’s good to bounce ideas off them and they’re always there for you which is nice.”
A return to Southern California isn’t unfamiliar for Helleson, who spends time there during the offseason with York. He’s also spent time there with now-former BC teammate Jack St. Ivany, who is from Manhattan Beach, where Helleson lived during his time with the Jr. Kings.
A new page turns in Helleson’s story with the next chapter located in San Diego. The Ducks will hope that eventually, his story finds its way to Anaheim.
Derek has been a hockey fan for over 10 years and a sports fan in general for more than two decades.
Prior to graduating from UCCS in Colorado Springs, CO in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in Sports Communication, he spent two and a half years as part of UCCS’ on-campus student newspaper staff–both as a sports reporter and editor. He is now creating Ducks-related content from his home in Southern California.
In his free time he enjoys playing FIFA, watching video essays on YouTube and curating his Spotify playlists.