Just as Red Berenson managed to get that seductress in a New
York Rangers jersey to stop hanging around Yost Ice Arena, she
unexpectedly struck again. After a failed attempt to lure Al
Montoya away from Michigan, the Rangers offered would-be senior
Dwight Helminen a deal, and he has chosen to accept

After attending one of the Rangers prospects camps — where
he was among the top performers — New York put an offer on
the table and a chance to make an impact.

“They see him in a really good light, and they think that
with the way they are going with their team and the way they have
cleaned house, that there’s an opportunity for a young guy
like him to play if there is a season in New York,” Assistant
Coach Billy Powers said.

Last season, Helminen was voted Best Defensive Forward in the
CCHA while scoring a career-high 17 goals and 11 assists in 41
games for the Wolverines. He has been a regular in the Michigan
lineup all three years and has scored 79 points in 120 games.

Helminen’s numbers might bely his value to the team as his
departure seemingly leaves several holes to fill despite only
leaving one locker empty. Perhaps the most obvious vacancy created
will be on the penalty kill, where Helminen seemingly had taken up
a permanent residency.

“Obviously there will be some guys that will have to step
up as far as the penalty kill goes because Dwight was a leader in
that regard,” Powers said. “He was one of the first
guys that we tapped for the penalty kill.”

Michigan has several options to replace Helminen on the unit,
where several Wolverines have already seen action, most notably
Mike Brown and Michael Woodford. Brandon Kaleniecki and Andrew
Ebbett have some experience in man-down situations and will likely
see more time this year. Powers also sees an option in expanding
the roles of highly talented offensive players, such as Jeff
Tambellini and T.J. Hensick, by keeping them on the ice for the
penalty kill.

Unlike with Montoya’s possible exit in goal, Michigan has
great depth at forward should be able to withstand the loss.

“This was a year when, with our depth, we could take a hit
up front — unlike Montoya or perhaps a top defenseman —
because that is how our team shapes up this year,” Powers
said. “I think we’ll move on pretty quickly as coaches
and as a group.”

The Wolverines will also lose a centerman for one of their top
three lines, but Powers won’t lose any sleep replacing
Helminen in that capacity. Former center David Moss, winger Milan
Gajic, and incoming freshman Chad Kolarik all have the ability to
play center on a top three line for Michigan.

Lastly, entering his senior season, Helminen would have been
expected to be a leader on a team that may be ranked No. 1 in the
country entering the season.

“As a senior, we hoped Dwight would take that step towards
leadership, but thankfully we have plenty of seniors to fill that
void,” Powers said. “I don’t think leadership
will be an issue on this team.”

Helminen’s early exit came as a shock to most. Powers
believes that his early exit was unexpected because of the extra
attention paid to teammates like Montoya. This doesn’t mean
that Helminen doesn’t have a bright future in the NHL.

“He is obviously a very high-end player and for what he
does well in terms of his speed, his penalty kill and the ability
to play against the other team’s top center like a (Todd)
Marchant or John Madden,” Powers said. “There is a
place for those players in pro hockey and there aren’t many
of them. So he has a good chance to have a career.”

Following an eighth-round selection by Edmonton in 2002,
Helminen was traded to the Rangers early in 2004 with goalie
Stephen Valiquette and a draft pick for center Petr Nedved and
goalie Jussi Markkanen.

“The Rangers called us right after the trade and told us
he wasn’t a throw-in pick,” Powers said. “New
York was a team that stepped up and showed him a lot of interest. I
think he felt good about all that and he’s always said his
goal is to play in the NHL. He just feels like the timing is
right.”

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