Darren Helm has been a bit of an enigma for the Detroit Red Wings. The 27-year-old has missed more games than played during the past two seasons, and fans were starting to wonder if Helm would ever stay healthy for the entirety of an NHL season.
Helm has dealt with the gambit of sports injuries: Back, groin, shoulder and concussion-like symptoms are some of the injuries he has endured during the past two seasons alone.
However, it’s been so far so good for the speedy centerman in the 2014-15 season.
After only playing in 43 games out of a possible 149 from 2012-14, including playoff games, Helm has played in all 39 games for the Red Wings this year.
He has 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) and just two penalty minutes mostly centering the third line with Tomas Jurco and Johan Franzen, but Gustav Nyquist also has rotated in in place of Jurco. Helm did see some time on the wing to begin the season.
Helm told DetroitRedWings.com managing editor Bill Roose of his turn-around season:
“It feels great. Up until last two games, I thought the 10 before that I’ve been playing well. Kind of a slower start, wanted to kind of feel out my body and see the situation I was in. I was able to overcome that and started playing hard. I think I got my step back a little bit after Christmas. Hopefully, I can get a good push here up until the All-Star break and then the rest of the season.”
Helm’s value to the Red Wings is unprecedented. He won’t score 30 goals or rack up 70 points, but he does all of the little things that don’t show up on a score sheet. He kills penalties, he wins faceoffs, he’s a hard-nosed two-way forward who uses his speed to force turnovers and create scoring opportunities for himself and his linemates.
Helm has had a bad reputation for having hands of stone. Despite having great breakaway speed, he tends to get stoned on breakaways more often than not.
That’s not to say Helm never scores on a breakaway. In fact, he did just that against the New Jersey Devils on New Year’s Eve. This goal was even more impressive, because he had New Jersey’s Eric Gelinas draped all over him. However, Helm managed to make a nice move from his backhand to his forehand as he was being brought down to score the insurance goal in a 3-1 win.
More goals like that would propel Helm into an elite group of players, but Helm’s value isn’t diminished because of the lack of goal scoring.
Wow Darren Helm. Strength, speed, goal.
— Chris Zadorozny (@ZadsISS) January 1, 2015
Helm also scored his 50th career goal earlier in the game against the Devils. This goal again shows how dangerous Helm can be with his speed.
Helm Solidifies Lineup
In addition to being a pain to deal with on the ice for opposing teams, Helm being in the lineup allows coach Mike Babcock to have stability on all four lines.
Without Helm in the lineup, Stephen Weiss would be forced to play center. Although Weiss has played center his entire career in Florida, Weiss has flourished on the wing this year.
Joakim Andersson is another player who might be forced to play center if Helm isn’t in the lineup. Andersson hasn’t been all that impressive during the past two seasons and has found himself on the fourth line more often than not. Take Helm out of the equation, and Andersson might get bumped up to the third line.
Replacing a player like Drew Miller or Luke Glendening in the lineup is relatively easy. To replace Helm takes a lot of line juggling and no doubt gives Babcock a lot of headaches.
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Tom Mitsos is a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @tom_mitsos.