Darren Helm has played one NHL game since April of 2012 - but he appears ready to make a return to the Detroit Red Wings when they host the New York Rangers Saturday night.
Helm has been held out for the past year-plus with back issues and a groin tweak during the pre-season that pushed his timetable further down the road. But he played two (point-less) games for the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins over the weekend and, according to Helene St. James, a return appears to be just around the corner.
General manager Ken Holland received as uplifting a text as possible on Sunday from Helm, reporting that all was well after two games in the minors and a nine-hour bus journey.
That's putting Helm on a brick-paved path to playing Saturday, when the Red Wings host the New York Rangers.
The Red Wings host the San Jose Sharks Monday night at Joe Louis Arena, but since Helm was put on long-term injured reserve to start the season, he has to miss a minimum of 10 games and 24 days. Helm will return from the minors to rejoin practices as he prepares for what will be only his second NHL game in 2013.
"He told me he's looking forward to being in the lineup next weekend," Holland said. "This is a major step, it's great news."
Helm, 26, has a career high of 12 goals and 32 points in the NHL, which he achieved in 2010-11. But while he was trending up in these offensive categories, his real value is as a checker. Helm is one of the best defensive forwards in the game and cuts you down with his incredible speed. In each of his three full seasons with the Red Wings, Helm has been either first or second among Detroit forwards in average shorthanded time on ice.
He will probably not be playing his A-game right out of the gate, telling MLive's Peter J. Wallner "I was sucking wind a few times" during his first AHL game. But he did get two shorthanded breakaways in that game, so he hasn't lost that elite skill set. He'll be yet another responsible weapon for the Red Wings to turn to in their quest for an Atlantic Division title.
And he's also a ton of fun to watch - just not if you're a fan of the other team. Welcome back, Darren.