Today's focus is on the two young grinders the Red Wings have cultivated over the years and have finally been able to offer consistent playing time at the NHL level. Since the first real glimpses of them in 2007-2008 season, they drew immediate comparisons to the longtime grinders of Detroit, Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper. Helm and Abdelkader are similar in size to Maltby and Draper and have similar playing styles; getting in the corners digging out pucks, killing penalties, hitting well beyond their size would indicate, playing the tough minutes, and scoring the occasional goal. The duo is expected to be a big part of the immediate future in Detroit and with what they've already showcased, it looks to be a bright future.
In 2009-2010, the pair was expected to play more than the year before but with injuries flooding the team, they played more than probably even they were expecting. The season actually began with an injury to Darren Helm in training camp as he took a spill into the boards and injured his shoulder. However, that allowed Justin Abdelkader to get playing time and by the time Helm returned to the line-up more players had (unfortunately) been injured and Abdelkader didn't have to go back to Grand Rapids quite yet. Helm and Abdelkader played very well in the time they got each night and although their scoring stats don't show it, their impact was pretty big on the team by way of time on the penalty kill and increased responsibility at the NHL level.
Will they continue on that success in 2010-2011 or will the increased depth of the Red Wings impact their progression?
2009-2010 NHL Stats
Darren Helm was drafted in 2005 by the Red Wings following his first season in the WHL as a member of the Medicine Hat Tigers. The season following being drafted, he scored 41 goals and added 38 assists for a 79-point season...79 points in 70 games. In 2006-2007, Helm played fewer games but still produced at a high pace, scoring over a point a game. In 2007-2008 he got the call to play in Grand Rapids and made the transition very well with 16 goals and 15 assists in 67 games. He played 7 regular season games with the Red Wings that year but played 18 games in the playoffs, scoring 2 goals and winning a Stanley Cup...good start huh? He went back to the Griffins the following season but played another 16 games in limited action for Detroit, then playing 23 playoff games and scoring 4 goals in another run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Helm had a bit of an odd start to his NHL career, scoring 6 playoff goals before scoring his first regular season goals. His style of play and work ethic has endeared him to Detroit fans and he will be a fixture in Detroit because of it.
Strengths: Helm's biggest and most known asset is his lightning speed and his superb skating. When Helm gets the chance to get his legs churning on a breakaway, noone is going to catch him. Helm has also showed he can be a penalty killing monster. If you need proof, look no further than the 25 seconds he single-handedly killed off against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 of the 2009 Western Conference Finals. As he also showed in that series, he is able to score a clutch goal when the occasion arises. Helm's series clinching goal against the Blackhawks put the Red Wings into the Stanley Cup Finals again and his goal with 17.3 seconds left against LA (pictured above) allowed Jimmy Howard to win following a 51 save night. Helm has great speed and it helps out with his play on the penalty kill, essentially being a defender and a half. He's also not afraid to block a shot and will sacrifice the body if it prevents a shot on net. Add in his ability on the draw and he certainly has a very bright future in the NHL with the complete package for a grinder. Oh, and even though he's only 5'11 doesn't mean he won't hit you.
Weaknesses: Helm's biggest perceived weaknesses is that he is unable to finish on the breakaways that he gets or that he doesn't have soft enough hands around the net. I think these are things that will eventually be resolved as he gets more experience in the league and watching Pavel Datsyuk will eventually get you some dangle--that sounds dirtier than I meant it to.
Expectations: Helm will probably get time mainly as a fourth liner now that Jiri Hudler is back and Mike Modano has joined the team. But, if the circumstances are right, he could get time on that third line. Most likely, Helm will play primarily alongside the guy listed below and Patrick Eaves/Drew Miller/Kris Draper on the fourth line but will be a top guy on the PK. Expect fewer goals from him with less time on the ice but expect the same amount of "wow" moments out of the youngster.
2009-2010 NHL Stats
The pride of Muskegon, Justin Abdelkader took the collegiate route instead of OHL, WHL, CHL (although he did play a year in the USHL) and spent three seasons with the Michigan State Spartans--much to the delight of The Triple Deke. Abdelkader's production in the USHL caught the eye of the Red Wings and he was drafted 42nd overall in 2005--the same draft class as Helm. Abdelkader's biggest fame as a Spartan came by way of the game-winning goal in the NCAA Championship in 2007. Abdelkader spent three years in East Lansing before joining the Red Wings for two games in 2007-2008. He spent the following season in Grand Rapids, scoring 24 goals and adding 28 assists in 76 games. He joined the Red Wings for the playoffs and scored a pair of goals in 10 playoff games. He started the 2009-2010 season in Detroit because of an injury to Darren Helm and as more and more players started to be injured, he was called on to play more and more. He played 50 games in Detroit before returning to Grand Rapids as the roster began to heal. In the 2009-2010 season, Abdelkader began to take on a role as a fighter and will likely be asked to continue that role in the future, in addition to his grinding style.
Strengths: Abdelkader is a great grinder and will hit anything on the ice. He's become a physical presence and although at 6'1 203 lbs he's not the biggest guy on the ice, he's not afraid at all to make a hit. He plays well along the boards and does a good job forechecking and forcing the issue with the puck carrier (see here for proof). He's got a good hockey sense and knows where to go on the ice which helps out defensively.
Weaknesses: I guess if you really wanted to pick out a weakness for Abdelkader it's that he doesn't have that much of a goalscoring touch in him. But, he's not supposed to really. He plays his role excellently as a grinder and can chip in the goal when given the chance but he does exactly what's expected of him.
Expectations: As with Helm, Abdelkader will likely get playing time on the fourth line primarily but time on the penalty kill as well. Expect him to lead the team in hits and fighting majors but that's probably the only thing he'll lead in. Probably about 6-10 goals depending on how much playing time he gets.
On Wednesday, J.J. will preview Valtteri Filppula and his platinum hair and the return of the Jiri Hudler.