- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2009

DETROIT | Darren Helm has been thought of as one of Detroit’s top prospects for the past two seasons, and his play has done nothing to dispute that notion.

He proved he was ready for a full-time chance in the NHL after playing well as an injury replacement in last year’s march to a Stanley Cup. But instead of spending this season with the Red Wings, Helm was forced to spend much of his campaign in the American Hockey League.

Such is life as a young player in the Red Wings organization.

“Last year was a little different because I knew I was going to be in Grand Rapids the whole year, but this year I was kind of hoping I’d be sticking around up here most of the year,” Helm said before Game 2. “It didn’t happen that way, but I’m here now, and that’s all that really counts.”

Helm is one of several young players who have provided the banged-up Red Wings with ample reinforcements during these playoffs. Injuries to veterans like Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Brian Rafalski and Kris Draper would probably be enough to cripple another team’s chances of postseason success - but not so in Detroit.

The Red Wings didn’t become the model NHL franchise without an ability to replenish the organization’s reserves of young talent continually. Detroit consistently picks at the bottom of each round in the draft because the team is so successful, yet the Red Wings’ staff continues to unearth quality players in the late rounds.

Helm is part of the next wave, which includes defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and forward Justin Abdelkader.

“Especially with signing [Marian] Hossa last year - I think that kind of sealed my fate going back to Grand Rapids,” Helm said. “If you look around here, there is so much skill and so many hard-working guys that know what it takes to win and have more experience than I do. That was definitely working against me, but it is a great team, and I am proud to be a part of it.”

Helm played in only seven regular-season games last year, but he had two goals and four points in 18 playoff contests. This season he was goalless again in 16 regular-season contests, but he had three in 18 postseason games, including the series-clinching tally in overtime of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against Chicago.

A fifth-round pick in 2005, Helm is already considered one of the fastest skaters in the league. He offers a jolt of energy for a veteran-laden Detroit lineup and has proved he can tackle multiple roles.

“Energy, youth - all of our young guys bring that,” Red Wings forward Kirk Maltby said. “Our young guys are wise beyond their years. A lot of them were here [last year] for the Cup run and the year we lost to Anaheim [in the conference finals]. It is all about experience and learning as you move along and finding out what it takes to win.”

Ericsson was a ninth-round pick in 2002 from Sweden who didn’t come to North America for four years, but his poised play makes it appear the Red Wings have added another asset from their Swedish pipeline. He tallied the first goal of Game 2 with a shot from the left point and drew a penalty on Evgeni Malkin by frustrating the Pittsburgh star with his stout one-on-one defense.

Abdelkader is a Michigan native who played at Michigan State and was a second-round pick in 2005. He has played only four regular-season games in his NHL career, but he has only played in nine postseason contests. He potted his first career NHL goal in Saturday’s Game 1 and added his second in the third period of Game 2.

“It just goes to show you our depth and the hockey knowledge that our scouting staff and manager have in finding these guys and bringing them in,” Maltby said.

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