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Helm returns for Red Wings; Mrazek in goal

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- Darren Helm will return to the Detroit Red Wings lineup, and goaltender Petr Mrazek will make his first NHL start of the season Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers.

Helm has played one game in 18 months due to injuries dating to March 2012. The center has battled a knee injury, lacerated forearm, back problems, and most recently groin issues.

"There were days where I was really uncertain this day would ever come and whether or not I would be playing again," Helm said. "There were some days of doubt, and I'm really happy to be back."

Helm's problems began with a knee injury toward the end of the 2011-2012 season. He returned for a first-round Stanley Cup Playoff game against the Nashville Predators but was cut by Alexander Radulov's skate, bringing his season to an end.

Helm then sustained a back injury that offseason preparing for the 2012-13 season. He reaggravated the injury in his brief comeback in January.

Having overcome his back issues, Helm injured his groin during training camp this season, then suffered another setback during a conditioning stint with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the American Hockey League.

"The back's feeling pretty good, it felt great going into camp," Helm said. "I pulled my left groin, and then I got down to Grand Rapids and tweaked my right one. Those were the two things that were giving me issues holding me out until today. But those are feeling good, so I'm good to go."

Helm will line up between Drew Miller and Mikael Samuelsson on the third line. Having been out for such a long stretch, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock will monitor Helm's minutes closely.

"He's going to be out of gas I assume 15 seconds into each shift," Babcock said. "He's got to simplify his game and be a forechecker and try to keep under control emotionally and not run himself into ground. We'll just see how he goes and play him according."

Mrazek, who helped the Griffins to a Calder Cup title last season, was called up to back up Jimmy Howard when Jonas Gustavsson sustained an upper-body injury. With Howard having played Friday night against the Calgary Flames, Mrazek, a product of Ostrava, Czech Republic, gets the call against the Oilers.

"I'm really excited, it's the first start of the season for me," Mrazek said. "I'm not nervous, I'm just going to have fun. I know there is nothing better than playing in Edmonton."

Mrazek, 21, starred for the Czech Republic at the 2012 World Junior Championship co-hosted by Edmonton and Calgary.

The Oilers welcome the return of Ryan Hamilton, who suffered a knee injury in his debut with the team on Oct. 7 against the New Jersey Devils. Hamilton will take David Perron's spot in the lineup; Perron is out with a neck injury.

Hamilton, 28, spent last season with the Toronto Marlies playing for Oilers coach Dallas Eakins.

"We've got a hole on the wing right now and we're not the biggest team in the League, we need some heaviness," Eakins said. "He plays that heavy game that we need. His job is very simple tonight, to go up and down his wing, be strong on the boards, go to the net and cover his linemates off by being a good, high forward a lot of the time.

"I have a comfort level with Ryan because I've coached him for quite a while now and I'm hopeful that he's up to speed quickly, because he has been out for a number of weeks."

Already without Perron, Taylor Hall, Ryan Smith, Tyler Pitlick and Jesse Joensuu, the Oilers go into the game without defenseman Justin Schultz, who has a groin and rib issues. The team called up defenseman Philip Larsen from the Oklahoma City Barons to take Schultz's place in the lineup. Richard Bachman will make his third consecutive start in goal.

Here are the projected lineups for the Oilers and Red Wings:


Ryan JonesRyan Nugent-HopkinsJordan Eberle

Nail YakupovSam GagnerAles Hemsky

Ryan HamiltonBoyd GordonMark Arcobello

Luke GazdicWill ActonBen Eager

Andrew FerenceNick Schultz

Ladislav SmidJeff Petry

Philip LarsenAnton Belov

Richard Bachman

Jason LaBarbera

Scratched: None

Injured: Taylor Hall (knee), Jesse Joensuu (back), Steve MacIntyre (knee), David Perron (neck), Tyler Pitlick (knee), Ryan Smyth (groin), Devan Dubnyk (ankle)


Henrik ZetterbergPavel DatsyukTodd Bertuzzi

Daniel ClearyStephen WeissDaniel Alfredsson

Tomas Tatar - Joakim AnderssonJustin Abdelkader

Drew Miller - Darren HelmMikael Samuelsson

Niklas KronwallDanny DeKeyser

Kyle QuinceyBrendan Smith

Brian LashoffJakub Kindl

Petr Mrazek

Jimmy Howard

Scratched: Jordin Tootoo, Patrick Eaves

Injured: Jonathan Ericsson (shoulder), Johan Franzen (lower body), Jonas Gustavsson (upper body)

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