Helm is encouraged by progress

Veteran center has missed all but one game with back injury

Wednesday, 03.13.2013 / 11:50 AM
Bill Roose  - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com

CALGARY – The NHL trade deadline is three weeks away, and many fans are interested in what Ken Holland may have up his sleeve.

The Red Wings’ general manager has indicated that he would prefer being a ‘buyer’ than a ‘seller’ as the April 3 deadline approaches. However, the return of some injured players, as well as the playoff picture – which literally changes with every game played – may determine whether the Wings add value or trade off assets in the coming weeks.

That being the case, the return of Darren Helm, who looks like he could be back in the Wings’ lineup before next month, could be better than any potential deadline deal.

This Sunday will be a year since a third-period body check by San Jose’s Dominic Moore sidelined Helm with a left knee sprain for the final 10 games of the 2011-12 regular season. The injury set off a domino effect for the Red Wings’ third-line center, who later suffered a lacerated forearm during the playoff opener, which required emergency surgery. And now he’s recovering from a lower back injury that has forced him to miss all but one game this season.

Helm took a big step last week when he began skating alone in full practice gear for the first time since late January. Tuesday he skated with the team and participated in drills before leaving for western Canada on a three-game road swing through Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

“It’s definitely nice to be out there, I can kind of see the end coming close,” Helm said. “I was skating pretty good the previous skates I’ve had. I felt that I could push myself pretty hard out there. I was getting a little tired there in the end since I’ve been out so long I played it smart and got off early.”

For the first time in a long time, Helm, who plans to continue skating with the rest of the team this week, is upbeat and positive about the likelihood of returning soon.

“We’re shooting for the next week or so,” Helm said. “A couple weeks ago we kind of said (March) 20 against Minny, not positive how close we were going to be to that. I want to make sure there are no issues with that, with my mind. I want to make sure when I’m out there that’s the furthest thing from my thoughts. I want to be as healthy as I can before I get back out there and not a thought in my mind about it.”

The Wings definitely miss Helm, who never takes a shift off and is one of the most aggressive fore-checking third-line centers in the league.

He had 26 points during the 2011-12 season (nine goals, 17 assists), which was the third consecutive year that he has finished with 24 or more points in a season. Among 17 Detroit players who played in 65 or more games last season, Helm was the least penalized, receiving only 12 penalty minutes in 68 games.

Helm injured his back while lifting weights prior to the Wings’ mini-training camp in early January. At the time, doctors were unable to pinpoint a diagnosis until a visit to a New York City back specialist late last month turned up a small tear in one of his discs.

Even if he doesn’t experience a setback in recovery, Helm knows that there are conditioning and atrophy issues to contend with by being away from the rink and gym for so long.

“You can’t just miss a year of hockey, step back into things and be the way you were,” he said. “There’s a lot of things I’ve got to get prepared for. The mental part of the game is really going to be important for me. Just focusing, the pre-game preparation, it’s going to take a while to get back to where I need to be.

“The whole timing part of my game is going to be off for sure. I hope to get it back quick. I’m going to work as hard as I can. I feel like I always try and do that. It just, you lose it really quick. You lose it after a week or two and the time I’ve spent off it’s going to be really hard to get it back.”

Once fully recovered and cleared to play, Helm’s return to the lineup will be the Red Wings’ trade deadline move.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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