Red Wings' Darren Helm moves into larger role as health improves

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The start to this hockey season wasn't exactly how forward Darren Helm had it planned.

After so much preparation and work in the long offseason, Helm was socked with COVID-19 the second day of training camp.

Red Wings forward Darren Helm hasn't registered a point in 11 games this season.

So much for getting the season started smoothly.

"For me, I didn't feel a lot of the effects of it as some people did," Helm said after Monday's practice. "But still, you're off for 14 days (per NHL protocol) and you can't do anything (training-wise), so you work so hard in the summer to be prepared to play, and all of a sudden that happens."

Once Helm returned, the transition appeared rather seamless in many ways.

Now, Helm doesn't have a point in 11 games, but he's not a player that's judged by offense. For Helm, it's the checking, the forechecking, penalty killing, many of the areas where you don't necessarily attract headlines, but are recognized by coaching staffs and teammates.

And Helm has done his job as well as anyone over the last two seasons, when he's been in the lineup.

"When he's been healthy, he's played good all year," coach Jeff Blashill said. "Darren, when he's been healthy, has played good going back to last year. I moved up him (during Friday's 7-2 loss) in the lineup as the game went along because whatever line he went on, the line went good. 

"We moved him up with (Dylan) Larkin and (Anthony) Mantha in Saturday's game and he was a big factor in that game in being a good line."

Blashill appreciates the variables in Helm's game that make the Wings a harder team to play against.

"He competes extremely hard, he's very quick on the puck, and he wins puck battles for us, and the game kind of comes down to that," Blashill said. "He's really good at going to the net.

"Over the course of the last two years, he's played real good hockey for us. Being in the lineup on a regular basis, he helps us."

Helm feels he's returned to where he needs to be physically, since being slowed by the virus.

"It definitely set me back, definitely took time to get back to speed," Helm said. "It took a few games for sure, but a lot of guys have had to deal with it. It's a challenge, but I'm feeling good now and I'll take that as a positive."

Helm, 34, is in his 14th season with the Wings. He's one of the last connections to Stanley Cups, long playoff runs, and winning seasons.

The rebuilding has been difficult, but Helm has seen a good trend develop over the last couple of weeks as the lineup has filled out after a brief COVID-19 protocol outbreak.

"I do feel over the last four or five games, whether the results have been good or bad, the guys are competing harder and working hard, and if we dig in a little harder, good things can happen," Helm said. "We're leaning in the right direction."

It'll be interesting to watch at the April 12 trade deadline, and beyond, what happens in regard to Helm, who is an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Will the Wings re-sign the veteran as the rebuild continues, or trade Helm for valuable draft picks?

Helm hasn't spoken to general manager Steve Yzerman regarding the future, but is prepared for anything.

"This is home for me, (but) I understand the game and the business of this," Helm said. "I've prepared, my wife and kids are prepared, for whatever might happen. I love playing and winning and whether I'll come or go, I'm just going to try to compete as hard I can to win, and just continue to be the best I can."

Predators at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit-plus/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Red Wings (5-12-3) and Nashville (7-10-0) split a two-game series earlier this month in Nashville. ... These two games will cap a six-game homestand for the Red Wings. ... LW Filip Forsberg (eight goals, 15 points) leads a struggling Predators offense.

Twitter: @tkulfan