Dwight Helminen, another one of those fun players with Finnish surnames and very North American given names, has signed a two-way contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. This news comes courtesy of the official ECHL website, where any signing of an ex-ECHL player is greeted as big news because it proves that it is statistically possible (however improbable) for an ex-ECHL’er to get a shot at the big time. This year, they celebrate notable alumni Chris Beckford-Tseu, Adam Berti, and of course, Aaron Downey. There’s a nicely informative thread about him over in the Hurricanes section of HFBoards.
In any case, for those of you who have forgotten about Mr. Helminen, he was once an Oilers draft pick- in the 8th round of 2002 (the Niinimaki draft, for those of you who have blocked that memory out. Chris Higgins. Sigh.)
In any case, Helminen is most notable as part of a trade in March of 2004 that sent Petr Nedved and Jussi Markkanen to Edmonton in exchange for Helminen, Steve Valiquette, and 2nd (Dane Byers) and 3rd (Dalyn Flatt) round draft picks. Nedved put up 15 points in 16 games as the Oilers made a mad dash towards the post season and came up just short (a game 82 loss to Vancouver featuring, among other things, Ty Conklin falling apart and Raffi Torres trying to kill Mike Keane). Markkanen’s second tour of duty was mixed, with the highlight coming in games 3 through 6 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals.
On the Rangers side of things, Steve Valiquette found his way this season as a solid backup on a defense-first team, while Dane Byers is an up-and-coming enforcer who made his NHL debut this season (5:05 TOI, 3 hits, -1). On the other side of the coin, Flatt played 14 games in the CIS this year, posting 1 assist and 35 PIM.
Helminen has had an interesting career, and will likely see some NHL action this season. As I recall Helminen was a quick skater with good defensive presence but both size and scoring concerns. As I write this, I picture Patrick Thoreson.
He had a nice season in Finland last year, and there is a brief scouting report in the HFBoards thread linked above from RuuhkaTuuka:
"Dwight Helminen played for my home town club last season with his brother. Dwight strugled a bit at first as our teams second and third lines were forming. He played most of the season as a second line winger. Late in the season he was moved to first line to play with Immonen and Pihlman. In the first line he was very good and scored over a point per game. So he can play an offensive role quite well. Had he been on the first line the whole season he would have been a PPG-player easily. His wrister is especially good.
I think Helminen feels he has a good chance to make the show. He would be getting 100 000 - 250 000€ in Europe, which is 157 000 - 392 000 dollars so he is there for a discount if he plays in the AHL.
He missed a few games due to a broken jaw he suffered in a training game. His brother Lars also suffered a broken jaw later and for a while they were playing with full face masks. As both of them are not that big it looked like there were two juniors playing with men. It was quite funny."
He sounds like one of those guys "generously" listed at 5’10". He’ll probably just get a cameo at the NHL level, but he could surprise. At 26, he’s had enough experience that Laviolette should be comfortable with him in a 4th line role, and if he’s developed some scoring touch he might stick around for a while. His career stats fit the stereotypical late-blooming defensive forward (college player, size issues, success in Europe), and I hope he makes the most of this chance- there’s always room for one more ex-Oiler long-shot, especially if he’s got some Finnish roots.