DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings just aren’t the same team without Darren Helm. That was coach Mike Babcock’s sentiment on Thursday. The coach had to be delighted, then, to see Helm participate in a sparsely-attended morning skate before the contest with New Jersey.
Helm has been out since March 17 with a left knee injury. He, along with Jakub Kindl, Kyle Quincey and newly-signed Riley Sheahan, were the only ones who partook in the optional practice. Yet there was significance in Helm taking the ice for the first time since getting hurt. Sitting around watching has only grated at his psyche.
“It’s tough watching,” Helm began. “Before I came in today, I wasn’t even sure when I’d be on the ice. They wanted me to get out there now, and it felt better than I thought. It’s still a ways away I think, but it still helps a lot, mentally.”
Helm did some light skating, but a target date for his return still has not been set. Asked if he’d be ready for the first game of the postseason, Helm sighed and took a long pause before answering.
“It’d be a nice goal to have,” Helm said. “Previously, they told me probably not Game One. So, I’m not going to be super angry if it’s not Game One. Obviously, I want to be back. It’s a pretty exciting time, and I want to get out there.”
To be sure, the Red Wings look much different without Helm. The last few games have seen the team lack that blazing speed and puck pursuit – not to mention the top-notch penalty-killing ability.
Yet, the team must find a way to have success despite the injury. Babcock didn’t mince words when describing Helm’s value to the team.
“We could really use Helmer,” Babcock said. “As everyone knows, just in watching us play, we’re not near as good a team without him. We have way less depth, and we don’t come at you near as hard. He can really help our team, and the sooner he’s back the better for us. It was great to see him out there tooling around.”
Not to be dismissed, in the coach’s opinion, is the mental lift that a player gets when he can finally don his equipment again. That subtlety can go a long way in aiding recovery.
“It’s always good for the player to get on the ice,” Babcock explained. “As soon as you get on the ice, you start feeling like you’re a lot closer personally. You get excited, and start thinking about getting back.”
There may have been a small sign that Helm’s spirits have been lifted. When asked if wearing the cumbersome brace would affect his trademark speed, Helm could only joke.
“It may make me faster,” he said with a laugh.
THE NEW GUY: The Red Wings signed Sheahan, 20, to an entry-level three-year contract on Thursday. Detroit’s first round pick in 2010 (21st overall), Sheahan is only weeks removed from his third year of collegiate hockey at Notre Dame. After seven games with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the forward signed his first contract and participated in his first game-day skate on Thursday.
As one might imagine, he was in awe just glancing around the Red Wings locker room.
“It’s amazing,” Sheahan said. “You look around the locker room, and there’s so many good hockey players. It’s pretty heartwarming, I guess, and it’s a pretty cool experience.”
At six-foot-two and 200 pounds, Sheahan is one of the biggest Red Wings forwards – a fact he’s hoping to use to his advantage. While he’s been told “no details” about when his first game might be, Sheahan feels as though he’s ready to contribute right away.
“I’m going to work my hardest to try and get in the lineup,” Sheahan said. “I feel like I can bring a big body to the team, and maybe a physical presence. I’m looking forward to getting the chance and seeing what I can prove.”
Sheahan was assigned the number 15, and his dressing room stall is positioned next to Drew Miller. Being number 15 held no special significance to the rookie; his AHL number is already taken by a certain Detroit defenseman.
“I wore No. 5 in Grand Rapids,” Sheahan said. “Obviously, five is gone. It’s not going anywhere. I think they just gave me 15. I didn’t pick it or anything.”
After tallying 64 points in 114 college games, and two points in seven AHL contests, Sheahan’s role at the NHL level is still to be determined. Being so close to the playoffs, the team may not be able to work the rookie into the fold this season.
According to Babcock, the future depends entirely on the player.
“I’m not going to take a look at him,” Babcock said.
“Our guys were there watching him last night. I’d love to put him in the lineup. I always like to put big people in the lineup. He’s going to decide with his play over time, how soon that’s going to be. If he’s a regular every day Red Wing, or a just guy who plays in exhibition and ends up in Grand Rapids; I don’t know the answer to those questions.”
Even though there were no plans to have him in the lineup, Sheahan’s parents were making the five-hour drive from St. Catherine’s, Ontario, in order to attend the game.
HE’S BACK: Defenseman Kyle Quincey returned to the lineup after serving his one-game suspension.