Coming at #23 on the ILWT Top 25 Devils Under 25 list is Minnesota defenseman Seth Helgeson. He's big, he's large, and he's primarily about defense - when he's not in the penalty box.
Former Minnesota Golden Gopher Mike Hoeffel was the prior entry of the In Lou We Trust Top 25 Devils Under 25. It just so happens that just ahead of him is a current Gopher: defenseman Seth Helgeson. He's now a senior at Minnesota and the only one on the roster for the 2012-13 season. He'll also be an assistant captain in addition to lining up at defense. Here's his basic stats from Elite Prospects as well as how we voted on him:
#23 - Seth Helgeson - D - Height: 6'4" - Weight: 215 lbs. - Age: 21 - 2012-13 Team: Minnesota (WCHA)
As a prospect, he's pretty straight forward to describe. Helgeson's a big defensive defenseman. His frame is large, which is easily confirmed by his height and weight. He plays physical - to a fault. He hasn't been a big scorer for Minnesota and he's not expected to be one even though he set career highs in scoring as a junior. He's a big defensive defenseman now and he'll continue to be one as he goes pro. If he ever makes it to the NHL, that will be the role he'll take. Helgeson is who he is.
He's also a part of a big (in at least talent) Minnesota team. In 2011-12, the team went all the way to the semifinals of the Frozen Four, losing out to eventual champions Boston College. As Joe Yeardon reported over at ProHockeyTalk, Minnesota was ranked #2 in the USA Today preseason polls for men's hockey. While preseason polls in any college sport should be taken with a grain of salt, the team will get all sorts of attention as one to beat. Helgeson and his teammates will get quite a bit of attention, which is good for those who want to see how he performs as a senior.
Of course, how much of a role he plays on his own team is an open question. Yes, he's got an "A" on his jersey but that doesn't guarantee ice time on a roster that has plenty of talented players. While Jeffrick at The Daily Gopher just briefly mentioned Helgeson in his short preview of the 2012-13 season, he wasn't sure he cracks the top four on the blueline given all the talent. Maybe that's just his opinion and I'm hoping that Helgeson will be in that top four right away. In that mention, he also brings up an obvious red flag for Helgeson: penalties.
Again, Helgeson plays aggressively and physically to a fault. After he settled in as a freshman, his PIM jumped to 66 as a sophomore and 70 as a junior. The very first sentence in Helgeson's profile at the team's official website is that he led the Gophers in penalties and PIM last season. That's not something you want to see from a developing player, much less as the very first fact in their official profile. Now, the PIM count suggests he's using his body and that he may be taking it too far at college. In a more physically-lenient environment, he may not be called for so many penalties. Yet, Helgeson's penalties increased dramatically as he's played more and more for Minnesota. One would think that over time, he'd become more disciplined, not less. That he hasn't makes me wonder about his sense. Combined with the fact that the Gophers are expected to be a strong team this season, and it's something that can send him down a path that could lead to less ice time, not more. The coaching staff thinks well of him to give him a leadership role; perhaps that will help him to be smarter with his play in someway. I certainly hope so, it's hard to play in a penalty box.
That being said, there's plenty to like Helgeson as a defensive defenseman prospect. Mainly, he's a steady defenseman. He's strong along the boards and he usually understands where he needs to be in his own zone. It's not flashy, but it gets the job done. Additionally, Helgeson's not at all a bad skater for his size. He's not going to be blazing through guys, but he's not going to plodding either. While he's not an offensive player, the fact that his production has risen in each of his past seasons at Minnesota is a positive. It suggests that he's been picking up the game and contributing more than just defense. He did have 44 shots, which is also a career high for him (16 as a freshman, 25 as a sophomore); he was able to get more opportunities to shoot and take them as a junior and that may continue as a senior. He's been a solid defensive defenseman for Minnesota and he's expected to do so again.
As far as why he was ranked so low by most of us (except Nate, who really likes Helgeson), the open question is his upside. While it's clear what kind of player he is, it's not clear whether he could be just a steady and effective player in the AHL or if he's got a bigger future beyond Albany. He's got to continue getting significant minutes strong Minnesota team (I think he will, for what it's worth), his skillset isn't easily seen in numbers, and one of those numbers (PIM) suggests he's got an element to his game he really needed to work on at least for his own team's sake in past years. Include the fact that his style is by definition not flashy, it's hard to get real excited for this guy from an outside perspective. Hence, nearly all of the rankings were in the 20s. Helgeson is still young enough to develop further, so I wouldn't take the #23 ranking as writing him off. We just want to see more. A strong senior year at Minnesota would definitely help as he heads into pro hockey. Hopefully it comes with fewer penalties.
Now that you know that Seth Helgeson ranks #23 on our list, I want to know your reaction to that. Do you think Helgeson should be higher or lower, or is this about the right place he should be in? What's up with his penalty count? What should we expect to see out of Helgeson in Minnesota beyond being a big defensive defenseman? How far do you think he'll be able to go in hockey; does he have a NHL future? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Helgeson in the comments. Thank you for reading.