At first glance, it seemed that Darren Helm’s blinding speed was what was going to keep him in the Red Wings lineup. Remember now, Helm first started to turn some heads as a call up during the 2008 playoffs. Three seasons later, it’s become very clear that it is not just his impressive footwork that has earned him a spot as a regular and as an impact player, but also his impressive brainwork in conjunction. In my opinion, besides being a strong skater, the most important skill for a hockey player to have is awareness. Put another way, a skaters hockey I.Q. must be high for him to see the ice in todays game. Gone are the days when strength or speed alone can make a player valuable to his organization. Some dubbed Helm as the second coming of Kris Draper. This is inaccurate. Helm will surpass Kris Draper as a player, and I expect the 2011-2012 season to be Helm’s time to shine like never before.
As Helm’s ice time has increased, his productivity has as well, and I don’t just mean on the score sheet. His size belies his strength, which is demonstrated by the momentum changing hits he delivers on a regular basis. Instead of flying down the wing and letting loose a slap shot with almost zero chance of beating the opposing netminder (as Draper often did), Helm uses his speed to gain access to the attacking zone, often ending up behind the goal line, slamming on the breaks, fighting off checks, and finding an open man while getting himself to the net. This is a very savvy use of Helm’s greatest weapon; his speed. It also proves that Helm’s mind for the game is quite sharp.
Helm’s usefulness as a penalty killer is not simply due to his relentless style as a checker and his anticipation of the play. I simply lost count of how many times Helm has created a shorthanded breakaway for himself. Seeing #43 soaring down the ice while short a man, happens so often to the point where it resembles clockwork. In addition, he must have had a goalie at some point in his career reveal the dirty little secret that lower stick side shots, are the most difficult for goaltenders to deflect. Helm often beats goalies in exactly this way.
Soon, our dear Red Wings will be entering another transition phase, with skilled youths waiting in the wings to take center stage. Helm is and will be at the core of this youth movement. How lucky for all of us.