He’s the highest rated player available from the USHL in advance of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft according to ISS in their first monthly release of the season and that sets the bar very high. Fortunately for Sioux City defenseman Seth Helgeson, he’s a pretty big guy.
Listed at 6’5 and 220 lbs, Helgeson is a late 1990-born player so will be one of the oldest players available for NHL teams in June. Often times that will give teams pause, but other teams see that as simply the chance at getting a slightly more developed player than a comparable player born 11 months later.
In any case it will be his size and physical play that scouts notice first because there is abundance of both where Helgeson is concerned.
The native of Fairbault, Minnesota came into the season ready to take on the pressure and attention that comes with a player’s draft year by trying not to lose focus on the business at hand.
“You can’t think about that too much," he said. "I think that when kids have their draft year coming up they can get caught thinking about it too much and maybe they don’t play as well so coming into this season I was trying to put that out of my mind. I’m just trying to get better every day with the coaching staff in Sioux City and everything’s been going really well this year. I’m excited for the season and the draft is a long ways away so you can’t think about that.”
That said, even he admits that the draft doesn’t always stay in the back of his mind all the time.
“It is tough. When I was little I used to watch [the draft], I grew up watching it and it’s a big deal,” he admitted. “You have to try not to think about it, but it’s hard, you do still think about what it would be like to play in the NHL and what team you might play for, but you have to concentrate more on your game than the draft because that’s what gets you to the draft.”
As for what his game is like, it’s what you would expect from a big body blueliner and that’s why he’s getting the early hype that he is.
“If you play physical, kids will know that you’re coming and you’ll buy time for yourself like that so I think playing the body is one of my main priorities on the ice,” he smiled. “I’m trying to work on that a lot this year to be even more physical. When you’re big and strong you have to do that so that’s a priority for a big man like me, I have to step up and be a physical presence for the guys on my team.”
Asked if there was someone who he patterned his game after or that he tried to emulate growing up, Helgeson kept to his roots.
“Being from Minnesota I like Brent Burns; he’s a very good player and when I make it back home I try and get to at least one Wild game,” Helgeson said. “Burns has been one of the guys I watch and also the big man, Chris Pronger. I watch a lot of YouTube videos on him. Those are the two main guys that I like to watch and try to play like.”
Some might suggest that there is some physical similarity to Erik Johnson, another big stay at home defenseman from Minnesota who went on to play for the Golden Gophers, the same NCAA program that Helgeson will move to in 2009-10. For Helgeson, becoming a Gopher has been a life-long plan.
“I’m excited and very happy and can’t wait for next season,” he said. “Growing up in Fairbault, every [University of Minnesota] game was on TV so I grew up watching them every Friday and Saturday night. Knowing that I might have a chance to play for the Gophers was a dream and I think growing up in Minnesota it’s everyone’s dream.”
Not quite everyone, as there are Minnesotans who opt to play their college hockey at rival schools such as Danny Kristo who is off to North Dakota next season. The two are currently teammates at the 2008 World Junior A Challenge, but that didn’t stop Helgeson from starting next season’s trash talking a little early.
“Oh yeah, definitely!” he said. “He’s a quick one, so fast and you have to know when he’s on the ice so there will be a rival right there plus I know a couple other buddies going to North Dakota as well so there should be some heated battles which will make it fun.”
Right now Helgeson is concentrating on helping Team USA try and capture a gold medal at the WJAC, an event that was circled on his calendar back in the summer.
“It’s a great event and it’s very highly [scouted]," he said. "Coming up here you have to play your game and not try to be someone that you’re not. It was one of my main goals at the start of the season and after this it’s winning the Clark Cup for Sioux City and trying to help the team while improving my game as much as I can.”
Asked about playing in Iowa, Helgeson said his experience in the USHL has been tremendous so far.
“You get about 2500 fans to the games, but the coaching staff is unbelievable,” he said. “Coach Knott does a great job of coaching me and telling me the things that I need to work on so I think Sioux City has really helped me.”
This year Helgeson has five points in eight USHL games, but he’s been held off the score sheet at the WJAC leading up to the final match on Sunday night.