-- Maybe Darren Helm
will just wait until next spring to report to the Detroit Red Wings
The young forward has proven that he doesn't need to be bothered with the regular season. No, his best work -- some might say his only work so far -- has been done in the postseason.
"To me, he's Red Wing-like," says his coach, Mike Babcock. "He just keeps bringing it every single shift. And that stuff's contagious. It makes our team better."
Helm, a little-known rookie center, has helped the Red Wings reach the Stanley Cup Final in each of the past two years. Last season, Detroit won the title with a Game 6 victory against the Penguins. This year, they play Pittsburgh in Friday's Game 7 with a shot at back-to-back titles.
In 2007-08, Helm didn't score a point in his first NHL recall, a seven-game trial. But that spring, he had a pair of goals and four points in 18 games, providing some much-needed fourth-line minutes when injuries decimated the Wings on their Cup run.
Many thought that postseason performance would be enough to earn Helm a full-time NHL job this season. Not with the defending champion Red Wings, it didn't. So the 22-year-old was sent back down to Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League.
"We were up so close to the (salary) cap that we couldn't use those guys at all this year, except when people got hurt," Babcock says of young players, like Helm, that spent the season in the minors despite NHL credentials.
"He just stepped up -- unbelievable what he's done. It's great when you get a young guy like that with so much energy and intensity. It brings our bench a lot of emotion and energy all playoffs." -- Kris Draper on teammate Darren Helm
Helm was called up three separate times during the regular season, for a total 16 games.
"Detroit has a lot of talent and the way they do things, they like to keep their guys down a little longer," said Helm, ever the good soldier.
It didn't help Helm's cause that he managed just one assist in his three call-ups. By the way, that's 23 regular-season games with just one point to his credit. But once the playoffs arrived this spring, there was Helm ready to be magical again. This time, he played in every Detroit playoff game and scored four goals, including the series-winning goal against Chicago in the Western Conference Final and a pretty goal in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"The difference for me this year is the amount of time I've been playing and the different type of role," Helm said. "I'm still that energy kind of guy, but I'm playing a lot more minutes and have to be a little bit more prepared and focused each night."
For those keeping score at home, that's 6 goals and 9 points in 40 NHL playoff games. There are more than a few 10-year vets in the League that would kill for that playoff resume.
"He just stepped up -- unbelievable what he's done," veteran forward Kris Draper
told NHL.com. "It's great when you get a young guy like that with so much energy and intensity. It brings our bench a lot of emotion and energy all playoffs.
So, what is it that allows the young Helm to excel during a time that is usually the province of grizzled vets? It's his willingness to sacrifice his body and use his speed for the good of the team.
"I think the biggest difference between 'Helmer' since he came out of junior until now is just the size of him," Babcock says. Helm was 172 pounds when he was drafted out of Medicine Hat in 2005. Today, he carries 195 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame.
"He's so hard on his stick, and he keeps coming," Babcock says. "I know he's leading our team in finished checks in the playoffs. I don't know if he's leading the League, but he's got to be up there on the top."
In fact, Helm is at the very top with his 112 hits, nine more than Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik
entering Friday night's Game 7.
"I'm playing more physical than last year and I think I learned quite a lot out of last year's playoffs -- watching and realizing what I had to do this year," Helm said.
He also has learned quite a lot from veteran Kris Draper
, who has played a style similar to Helm for 15 NHL seasons now. Whenever the opportunity arises -- on the plane, on the bus, at dinner -- Draper willingly passes on his knowledge. Helm eagerly soaks about every last detail.
"People are talking about Helm as a young Kris Draper
, and, you know what, for me it's a compliment to be compared to a player like that," Draper told NHL.com. "We've done a lot of stuff together this postseason. We've created a solid relationship with that.
"It's something that I'm proud of, to be able to help a younger guy; not that he needed it, but just took it to a whole new level and has been playing great."
So good, in fact, that the Wings may demand he show up next fall, not next spring, for another Detroit title defense.
"We're going to have some lineup changes over the summer," Babcock said. "It's just the way the business is; and so there will be room for guys like Helmer."