DETROIT -- Darren Helm is a player that was ahead of his time.
You can't last in today's NHL without superior skating and that is something that Helm has always had since he came into the league at 21.
Helm, 29, was the Red Wings' fifth-round choice, 132nd overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Now he is among five unrestricted free agents on the team who get to test the market starting July 1.
Of the five, Helm and Joakim Andersson are the only two who have spent their entire careers in Detroit.
In 77 games this past season, Helm had 13 goals, 13 assists and was minus-2.
"Slow start, some tough breaks with the puck, couldn’t seem to score early or add up to too many points but I thought I was playing well, I was skating well," Helm said, assessing his season after the Wings cleaned out their lockers Monday. "I thought I finished off the season really strong and building off of that and getting into summer and look forward to next year."
General manager Ken Holland has always felt a special connection to Helm.
"I’m a Medicine Hat alum," Holland said. "Helmer’s a Medicine Hat alum. I followed Helmer extra close after we drafted him because he came from the same junior team that I did. His fiancée used to be in our backyard playing with my kids. We were neighbors with Devon. I’ve known Devon, his fiancée, since she was 2-3 years old. I know Helmer and Devon really, really good.
"I think he wants to come back. We’ve talked a little bit, but certainly I also understand this is an important contract for him. We’re going to sit down. I’ve got interest in Helmer coming back but obviously it takes two to tango. Helmer and his agent have to decide what their priorities are."
Helm and his fiancée plan to be married in 2017.
As an unrestricted free agent, Helm is free to go to any team that wants him.
Helm said he planned to speak with both Holland and coach Jeff Blashill about how they envision his role going forward on a team trying to incorporate some younger players.
"There are situations where I definitely wasn’t happy this year when I was playing and I wasn’t too happy when those situations arose," Helm said. "So I want to see why that happened as often as it did and make sure I find a place that it won’t happen often."
Helm did not offer specifics about the things that made him unhappy in his role.
Holland said former coach Mike Babcock and Blashill both appreciated Helm's versatility.
Helm can play on a top line with a player like Pavel Datsyuk or he can shift to a checking role on the third or fourth lines.
"He can kill penalties. He can skate in a league where speed is important," Holland said. "He’s got speed. He plays hard. He seems to be able to play up and down the roster. He’s versatile. Mike Babcock and I thought at the time that he was as good a third-line center as there was in the National Hockey League. We had lots of center icemen so Mike converted him to a winger and I think he’s done a good job on the wing. I think he could move back to the middle if he had to."
Before the last two seasons, Helm ran into some injury trouble.
After recovering from a lacerated tendon in his forearm that happened in the first game of the 2012 playoffs, Helm then suffered a back injury that kept him out nearly all of the 2012-13 season.
Helm played 42 games in the 2013-14 season, limited by a concussion and a groin injury, but managed to collect 12 goals and eight assists in that period.
In the 2014-15 season, Helm had a career best 15 goals along with 18 assists and was plus-7 in 75 games.
"Last year he had a really good year," Holland said. "I went to his agent and Helmer in training camp and talked that maybe we should engage in a conversation about an extension and then he got hurt. He was out for about 10-15 games to start the season and we decided that we would wait until the end of the season."
In the first drill on the first day of training camp, Helm collided with prospect Jerome Verrier.
Helm suffered a concussion while Verrier broke his right leg.
"It started here sounding like Kenny wanted to get things done here pretty quick," Helm said. "I got that injury and nothing really formed after that. I didn’t have the best year statistically and mentally, not as far as playing, but just how the way things were going on at the rink and on the ice. I was hoping to have at least some conversations about an extension … we’ll see what happens."
Naturally, Helm does have some priorities when considering his next career move.
"Winning is a big part of it," Helm said. "I want to win. I really don’t mind playing on the bottom lines as long as there’s that respect factor. You get opportunities in different situations. If that looks like that’s the case that I’ll get to play in those situations that I feel that I can play in then I’ll be happy. If not and they tell right away that’s not going to happen, then I may not want to stay. Lot of decisions to make, we’ll see how everything goes with the talks that’ll happen."