DETROIT – After two brutal injury-plagued seasons in Detroit, forward Darren Helm regrouped in 2014-15 by posting career-high numbers and returning to his speedy, game-changing ways.
Appearing in 75 games this season, Helm was a regular in the Red Wings lineup after spending significant stretches on the disabled list throughout much of the past two seasons. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 schedule, the 28-year-old appeared in just one game and spent the remainder of the season sidelined with a back injury. Again in 2013-14, he appeared in just 42 games as a variety of injuries forced him to miss half of the season.
Having him back in the team’s day-to-day activities, Helm’s versatility shined as he made the move from center to wing and skated among the top nine forwards. A grind-them-out, high-energy pest on the opposing team’s defense for much of his career, the eight-season pro took the next step in his development providing offense and power play work to his repertoire.
“I’m still trying to do that grinding and hard working spot, just in a different kind of role,” Helm said. “Obviously, there’s gonna be more chances playing with a guy like (Pavel Datsyuk) and (Tomas Tatar) but my main focus to be successful is just working hard and getting pucks to those guys and trying to be a presence in front of the net.”
Playing alongside some of the team’s top forwards, it’s a given that more opportunities would present themselves offensively. With Helm’s speed and persistence on the forecheck, his skills allowed him the ability to create chances as well. With 15 goals, Helm set a new career high and reached the 10-goal plateau for the fourth time in six seasons. His 33 points surpassed a previous career high set in 2010-11 and Helm was the only Wings forwards to score both a power-play goal as well as a shorthanded goal.
“You’re gonna get chances,” he said. “Pucks are gonna find you a little bit more often especially when you’re playing some more minutes, power play, all those things.”
Finally healthy, Helm got a bump in ice time seeing a full minute more per game than in 2011-12 when he averaged 14:30 in 68 games played. That season, he spent a significant amount of time as an efficient penalty killer with his combination of speed and defensive smarts. In 2014-15, he remained as a key component on the Wings’ special teams, killing off penalties but also developing into a weapon on the power play as well.
Playing the net-front on the man advantage, Helm brought a different presence to the position. Big bodies like 6-foot-2, 218-pound Justin Abdelkader and 6-foot-3, 222-pound Riley Sheahan imposed a physical presence around the crease on the power play. At 6-foot and 196 pounds, Helm’s value on the power play didn’t lie in his size but rather his quickness and ability to retrieve pucks, as he has a knack for edging out opponents in puck battles. With three power-play goals and seven points on the man advantage, Helm reached new highs on special teams as well.
The combination of speed, persistence, tenacity and grit led to a career season for a healthy Helm. Having him back in the daily lineup provided a boost for the Wings in all facets of the game from even strength to specialty teams at both ends of the ice. A flexible forward capable of playing a 200-foot game from a variety of positions proved to be invaluable as the team relied on his abilities to impact the game.