Wings' Helm all grown up

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:00 PM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He used to be the "skinny little guy who could skate the like the wind."

Now, without his shirt on, he looks like he could be on the cover of one of those muscle magazines.

And he sports a playoff beard that's anything but patchy.

Darren Helm has come a long, long way from his days with the Selkirk Fishermen of the Manitoba Junior-B League.

Turning 23 earlier this season, the St. Andrews native hasn't just grown up, he's become a man by NHL standards. He playing all 82 games and caught plenty of attention along the way, including that of his coach and teammates.

Asked Wednesday about the key to his so-called fourth line, Detroit's Mike Babcock didn't hesitate.

"Helm," Babcock said. "Helm's an elite player, probably not a fourth-line player. Helmer and (Patrick) Eaves and (Kris) Draper do things right, and they do it right shift after shift after shift. They hunt down the other team's D.

"All you've go to do is go down a few times with Helmer on your back, and anybody's who's gone back for pucks doesn't like doing that very often."

The Phoenix Coyotes found that out.

A few shifts into Game 3 of their first-round playoff series, Helm flew into the Coyotes zone, belted a defenceman off the puck and found Ruslan Salei for the opening goal, 1:57 in.

"He's just so fast," Babcock said. "He plays heavy. He's big in the fact that he's a fit guy and he makes you pay. I just think he's a real good player for us. He's gotten better and better as time's gone on and we're a much better forechecking team with him and (Justin) Abdelkader than we have been in the past.''

After a slow start this season -- he scored just twice before the New Year -- Helm found his offensive groove, finishing with career highs of 12 goals, 22 assists and a plus-9.

"It was a fun year," he said. "It was nice to get the 82-game season. It's a good accomplishment."

And that's about as much as you'll get from the understated Helm.

So you go to his dressing-room neighbour and mentor for a little more.

"He's really coming into his own," Draper said. "He's just going to continue to get better in this league. When you've got great speed, you continue to get more confidence, you're going to score more goals, and that's exactly what he's doing."

A Stanley Cup winner (2008) with a knack for big goals, Helm is smart enough, too, to have attached himself to a 39-year-old who's seen it all. Draper has carved out a nifty career with some of the same tools.

In fact, Helm has been described as the next Draper.

"That is a big title," the old guy said. "Long way to go for that."

Seriously, Draper has taken Helm aside and told him he's there to help, on and off the ice. The two have developed quite a friendship, it seems.

"We sit beside each other way too much," Draper said. "But we have fun with it. We've built a solid relationship. It's exciting to see where he's going."

One of the things Helm says he's learned this year is to keep things on an even keel, whether he's scoring or not, whether the team's winning or not.

"It's been kind of a roller-coaster year, so you try to keep it as straight as possible," he said. "That's the thing I tried to do a lot better this year. It worked out not too bad."

You could say that.

It seems the team's old guard has developed quite an appreciation for the new kid on the block.

"He's a threat all the time he's out there with his speed, especially on the penalty kill," Wings defenceman Niklas Lidstrom said. "He's just getting better and better for us. He looks like he feels comfortable with his role on the team, too."

Helm says he's actually had to harness his speed a bit, be patient and not just fly around, overskating the play.

But the skinny kid, as his old Junior-B coach, Al Hares, remembers him, still skates like the wind.

One that'll be blowing for a long time.


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