The Red Wings didn’t start the 2008-09 season with a rookie on the roster. However, several injuries allowed the club to call up four rookies from their AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.
Jonathan Ericsson, D – 6’5, 220lbs
Acquired: 9th round, 291st overall, 2002
When Rafalski and Lilja went down with injuries in the regular season, the Red Wings were able to call Ericsson up to the team. With the lingering effects of Lilja’s concussion, Ericsson has become a fixture on the third pairing into the playoffs.
Perhaps the biggest surprise with Ericsson is the poise he possesses with the puck. He doesn’t rush his passes or pinch at inopportune times. This has allowed Mike Babcock to play Ericsson in several key situations with the Red Wings.
In 23 games with the team, Ericsson has tallied two goals and three assists, for five points. Though, Ericsson’s most notable contributions have come in the form of his defensive play. He has seen significant time on the penalty kill and is adept at separating opposing players from the puck. Ericsson has also shown that he is willing to drop the gloves in the right circumstance.
Darren Helm, C – 5’11, 185lbs
Acquired: 5th round, 132nd overall, 2005
When the injury bug struck the Red Wings forwards, Helm received his long awaited call-up to the team. During the season he saw time on a line with Hudler and Samuelsson, providing speed and a forecheck to compliment the other two players. More recently the injury to Kris Draper has allowed Helm to take on his role as the fourth-line center.
Helm didn’t produce much in the way of points, supplying only one assist during the regular season. However, in the 16 games he played with the Red Wings, Helm threw 37 checks. He has carried his physical play into the playoffs as well, as he leads the team with 17 checks in four games.
Helm also boasts an impressive 56 percent face-off success rate that he has carried into the post-season as well, filling in quite nicely during Kris Draper’s absence.
Ville Leino, LW – 6’1, 188lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2008
Leino was called up from the AHL while Holmstrom and Franzen were out with injuries. He spent most of his time in the NHL with a Filppula/Hossa line, but also spent a few games playing with Maltby and Kopecky. In either situation, Leino showed that he could put up points in the NHL.
In the 13 games he spent with the Red Wings, Leino scored five goals and four assists for nine points. During his tenure, he played just a shade under 13 minutes per game. Along with Helm, he was responsible for rejuvenating the Red Wings fourth line, adding a scoring threat to a checking line. Among his goals was a spin-o-rama goal that showcased his offensive ability.
With the Griffins in the playoffs at the moment, Leino has remained in the AHL. Should the team get eliminated, Leino will likely join the Red Wings during their post-season run.
Justin Abdelkader, LW – 6’2, 215lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2005
Like his other AHL teammates, Abdelkader was able to play for the Red Wings during their rash of injuries. He was only able to dress for two games, ending his NHL stint pointless. In his time with the Red Wings, though, Abdelkader showed that he could be a physical threat and strong on the forecheck. Much like Leino, Abdelkader would most likely be with the Red Wings if the Griffins weren’t in the AHL playoffs.