Monday, June 9, 2008

Best n00b Award

Yeah, it's pretty much Darren Helm.

I had to look him up - I didn't know what he looked like.

Last year Best n00b went to Kyle Quincey. Quincey was thrust into action by injuries, and had one job: don't screw up while playing 8 minutes a night on the third pair. Helm was in a similar position, playing on the fourth line with the hope that he would solidly eat minutes while giving the others rest, allowing Mike Babcock to keep rolling four lines. Helm took the job and ran with it, literally; his speed gave the fourth line a boost, and teamed mostly with Darren McCarty and Jiri Hudler, Helm's line gave the Wings energy, occasionally offense, and tireless puck pursuit. Helm was a demon on the forecheck and was all over the puck at all times. The ability of Babcock to role four lines was crucial throughout the playoffs and was a major reason the Wings went all the way. Helm may not have put in a lot of offense or killed many crucial penalties, but helped round out the team and keep the big guns fresh. Strong work, Helmer.

Helm roofs it on Turco for his first NHL goal.

Now the question becomes, does he make the team next year? If not for his playoff performance, the answer would almost certainly be no. The Wings strategy with kids is to keep them in the juniors, minors, college, or Europe until they are way past ready. The other half of that is that the Wings keep their veterans around, never releasing them to make room for kids. The Wings maintain the status quo until they are forced to give a kid a spot. That's how Val Filppula got on the roster.

And Helm may very well Filppula his way onto the roster as well. After this performance it's hard to see him getting cut come training camp - hard to see him not deserving it, and hard to imagine how he'd take it. Quincey had high hopes of parlaying his strong playoffs into a regular season job, and whether that was realistic of him or not it led to disappointment when he got sent back to Grand Rapids this past fall. That in turn led to a poor season which now sees Quincey behind Derek Meech and Jonathon Ericsson on the depth chart.

On the other hand, there are 13-14 forward spots as opposed to 7-8 defense spots. Assuming Val Filppula returns, here are the Wings commitments:


Looks like a good spot for Helm. McCarty will likely be re-signed as a depth forward. Downey could also be back as the 14th forward if the Wings elect to keep only 7 defensemen. The one possible sticking point is Ville Leino. The Wings signed him from Finland during the playoffs on a one year deal with the expectation that Leino would return to Finland if he didn't make the team. Leino is no prospect, really - the Wings are hoping he'll make the club because otherwise they'll lose him. So I think for Helm it comes down to a one-on-one battle between him and the Finn.

He's under there. Trust me.

And what if Helm and Leino both perform well? I suppose the Wings could trade somebody. Somebody who doesn't pitch in enough offense, but had a strong Finals, dramatically inflating his value? Hmmm....

Tomorrow: Blackest Ace Award
Nominees: Justin Abdelkader, Jonathon Ericsson, Aaron Downey.