DETROIT – It’s been a long, agonized layoff for center Darren Helm, who hasn’t consistently been in the Red Wings’ lineup since suffering a sprained knee last St. Patrick’s Day.
Since the knee injury in San Jose, it’s been one bad turn after another for the 26-year-old Winnipeg native.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy,” Helm said. “From the end of last year to the lockout and even at the start of this year I started out hurt. I’m anxious to get out there, excited and when they give me the go ahead I’ll be even more excited.”
It’s expected that Helm will return to the lineup when the Wings host the Minnesota Wild on Friday night. It will be the first time that he’s been in the lineup since Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. In that he game, he suffered a serious cut on the right forearm, which required emergency surgery in Nashville to repair tendon damage.
Injuries continued to follow Helm into the lockout. In November, he was struck in the face by a puck, which fractured a cheekbone, during players’ workout. Then, a week before the Wings’ mini training camp, he had another setback when he injured his lower back.
But now, Helm hopes to put the bounty of injuries in the past as he gets prepared to make his season debut and hopes to provide a spark to the third line.
“I hope I can, it’s going to be tough,” he said. “I missed the last two weeks, but kind of started off where everyone else did, but two weeks late. The last four or five days I’ve been working real hard to get back into that shape. It’s not the same unless you get out there. Workout shape is a lot different than game-shape. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but I think I’ll be right back in there pretty quickly.”
Mike Babcock calls Helm the best third line center in the league. But the Red Wings’ coach knows that it will take some time for Helm to get up to NHL speed and regain that designation as an energy-provider.
“No question, we want Helmer to provide that, but Helmer hasn’t played hockey in eight months,” Babcock said. “So let’s have a little perspective. It’s not like he had all training camp and got tweaked at the end. He hasn’t gone, so he’ll be a work-in-progress.”
While Helm doesn’t expect that the cache of injuries will chance his style of play, he’ll now wear Kevlar socks and arm sleeves.
“I got it, been wearing it,” Helm said. “I don’t notice it. It’s kind of too bad I didn’t wear it before. That’s life, you live and learn. I’ve got a good scar to remind me to keep those things on. It’s not uncomfortable at all. It’s a little warm, but it took a couple of skates, but now it’s alright.”
“I’m hopeful of that. I mean, the trainers will make that decision,” Babcock said. “They all skated today. I skated them all yesterday myself. And then skated them again today. … Now they have to get ready to play.”
The European stars remained apart during Thursday morning’s practice at Joe Louis Arena as Zetterberg worked with Johan Frazen and Swiss import Damien Brunner, while Datsyuk moved to the second line and skated with Valtteri Filppula and Bertuzzi.
“They haven’t scored, right?” Babcock said. “You just can’t keep doing things the same, you know? They played together here today on the power play, they were apart on regular shifts, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
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