On January 22, the New Jersey Devils called up 25-year-old defenseman Seth Helgeson from Albany due to an injury to John Moore. With Jon Merrill also on IR, the Devils needed another body to help out on the blue line. Helgeson was the obvious choice to be called up since he had 22 games of NHL experience with the team last season and showed he was capable of playing at that level.
If you’re not familiar with Seth Helgeson, he profiles as a strong, physical, stay-at-home defenseman. He’s a big kid at 6’4″ 200 lb. and isn’t afraid to drop the mitts if the situation calls for it. That’s one of the things that makes Helgeson very valuable to the Devils. Other than Jordin Tootoo, they don’t have a player who you’d throw into the “enforcer” category. They also don’t have many players who can throw a big body check and add a physical prescence like Helgeson can.
As far as the defensive end, Helgeson has been nothing but solid. He’s been so reliable that he hasn’t been scratched since his call-up. When Moore returned to the lineup, it was Damon Severson who shockingly got scratched for three games – all of which the Devils lost. Then it was Eric Gelinas‘ turn to be scratched for the last last three games – all of which the Devils won. Not saying it was Gelly’s fault, but he’s nowhere near the defensive player that Severson or Helgeson are.
In addition to Helgeson’s very responsible defensive game, I have noticed something impressive on the offensive end as well. By no means is he anything resembling an offensive defenseman, but Helgeson has underrated instincts in the offensive zone. He knows his limitations on that end of the ice and that allows him to make smart decisions with the puck. He doesn’t try to make fancy passes or mess around at the blue line; he’s content with getting the puck deep along the boards or taking a shot when the lane is open. Helgeson won’t light up the scoreboard, but he also won’t give the puck away in bad spots either.
Sometime this week, it appears likely that Jon Merrill will be ready to make his return to the active roster. That leaves the Devils with a bit of a conundrum. Their roster is full at 23, but there are a few options they have to make room. There are five players who don’t require waivers to get sent down to Albany: Helgeson, Severson, Joseph Blandisi, Reid Boucher and Sergey Kalinin. They also could waive a player like Tuomo Ruutu. Putting Stefan Matteau on IR (retroactive to January 14 so he’d be eligible to return at any time) is also another possibility. Then of course there could be a trade, but that seems unlikely just yet.
Sadly the most likely route will be sending Helgeson back to Albany, especially seeing as they’ll need another roster spot whenever Michael Cammalleri is ready to return which will hopefully be soon. However, I say the Devils should hold off on doing so. They are at their best when Seth Helgeson is in the lineup filling out the defense corps. Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, David Schlemko, Moore, Severson and Helgeson is the best group of six the Devils have put out on defense this season. The last three games with those six have yielded just two goals, against some strong offensive teams I might add.
We’ll see what happens in the next few days. Maybe Seth Helgeson just gets caught in a numbers game like Blandisi earlier this season. Whatever does transpire, Helgeson has done nothing to warrant getting sent back to the AHL. His play has been terrific and the Devils have done extremely well defensively with him in the lineup.
In my opinion, Seth Helgeson deserves to be a regular on defense for the Devils. He’s earned it.