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Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Helm passes pressure test

TRAVERSE CITY -- Darren Helm felt the pressure. And that was exactly what the Detroit Red Wings' management wanted.

For a young man growing up in Canada, wearing your nation's hockey jersey and competing against other countries is a dream. It's also pressure filled.

When Helm -- who is participating in the Red Wings' prospects camp -- was selected to play for Team Canada at last winter's World Junior Championships, it was a wonderful test for a 19-year-old.

"It's great pressure," said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill. "You always want your kids to play at the highest level they can and under pressure because in the Stanley Cup final, that's what they're going to have to do."

Helm, now 20, was drafted by Detroit in the fifth round (132nd overall) in 2005. Born in Manitoba, Helm had a breakthrough year after being drafted, finishing fifth in the Western Hockey League with 41 goals.

Last winter, however, Helm's biggest accomplishment came when he was chosen to play for Team Canada at the World Juniors in Sweden. High-profile forward prospects like John Tavares and Angelo Esposito were cut from the roster while Helm remained.

The Red Wings' draftee played on either the second or third lines for Canada, scoring two goals and taking home a gold medal against the best under-20 players from around the world.

The tournament -- held over the Christmas holidays -- has become a national television event in Canada, earning top ratings in its time slot.

"You don't really actually notice how big it is and how many people are watching until you get back home," said Helm. "Obviously it was a huge honor for me to put on that jersey. Every time I put it on I got shivers. The whole tournament in itself, you're playing for your country, going for the gold medal. They expect nothing less.

"There's lots of pressure. You try your best to put the pressure aside so you can play your game."

Some career pressure was alleviated for Helm after last fall's training camp when the Red Wings inked him to a three-year entry-level contract. Had the franchise not opted to sign Helm by this year's camp, he would have been a free agent.

Helm went back to Medicine Hat last winter and had another productive season. He's a fast skater with good hockey sense who can be used to kill penalties, on the power play or at any time in the faceoff circle.

For the second consecutive year, Helm helped Medicine Hat reach the Memorial Cup final -- the championship tournament for North America's top junior circuits.

"For me this year, I'm a little more relaxed than what I was the last couple of years coming in here trying to get a contract," said Helm. "I'm still here trying to get a spot on a team, obviously I'd like Detroit, but Grand Rapids would be a good fit. There's lots of pressure on everyone here, lots of guys trying to get a contract or make a first impression or make the team. It's the same, you've got to put the pressure aside. There's lots of nervous energy that you can use."

Grand Rapids is a likely destination for Helm who is out of junior eligibility. The Red Wings have four set forward lines ready for when the main training camp opens Friday. That doesn't include prospect Igor Grigorenko, who can return to Russia if the Red Wings don't keep him in the NHL, or any free-agent tryouts who might be invited to camp.

On top of that, the Red Wings prefer to allow a first-year pro to get experience and confidence in the minor leagues.

"Our experience tells us that at some point (in their first pro season) they're going to hit a wall," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "For young players, confidence is such a big thing. If you're dominating, you're growing as a player. They don't understand that. They just want to see the bright lights of the NHL. They want to play with the best players, make NHL salary, fly on private planes. Because they think they're ready."


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