By Thomas Harrington
After being an overage player in the WHL the year before, Kenton Helgesen turned pro this past season and spent the entire year in the ECHL playing for the Utah Grizzlies.
Helgesen suffered a foot injury in October and didn’t make his ECHL debut until early November. He also missed a decent chunk of time from the end of November until mid-January. Overall, he played in 31 games for the Grizzlies and scored two goals and five points. When Anaheim drafted Helgesen in the seventh round back in 2012, he was a defenseman but switched to playing forward late in his junior career. In Utah, Helgesen was used primarily as a bottom six winger. It would have been nice for him to score more, but given how much time he missed and the fact that he’s still adjusting to a relatively new position, it’s okay that Helgesen didn’t light up the scoreboard this year.
A year ago, I expected Helgesen to play in San Diego and my expectations for him were to just play as much hockey as possible. Well, make that two summers in a row that I’ve been wrong about Helgesen. Before his overage season I thought he would turn pro, and a year ago I thought he’d be in the AHL. Instead, mainly due to the amount of depth in San Diego (and probably his injuries too), Helgesen had to settle for playing time in the ECHL. As a result, my expectations for Helgesen could not be met. When he was healthy, he was in Utah’s lineup, but those injuries cost him a lot of playing time this past year.
This coming season, I’m not sure exactly where Helgesen will be playing. If he’s in the ECHL again, he needs to put some more points and play more games for the Grizzlies. If he’s in the AHL, I’ll be satisfied with him putting up a low point total, as long as he can play in a decent number of games with the Gulls. It all depends on which league Helgesen ends up in. More importantly, regardless of what league Helgesen is in, hopefully he can stay healthy and be more comfortable at forward. Changing positions isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and after dominating in his final season in juniors as a forward, Helgesen struggled at times in that position with Utah.
As a former seventh round pick, Helgesen’s NHL future was always a bit of a long shot. After putting up low numbers in the ECHL in his first professional season, it looks like an even longer one. However, because he has changed positions and is still adjusting to being a forward, it’s currently unclear exactly what his ceiling is. Also, if he’s able to get to the point where he can play just as well at forward as on defense, he could have a slight edge over other young players, as he could be an ideal extra player to carry on a team’s roster since he can play both positions. If he does make it to the NHL with Anaheim, he does have one thing going for him: the fact that he plays left wing, a position that Anaheim has struggled to fill in recent years. However, the Ducks have worked to fill that position, and with Nick Ritchie, Kevin Roy, Nic Kerdiles, and the recently drafted Max Jones, it won’t be an easy battle for him to make it. However, he has a better chance of making it as a forward than as a defenseman simply because of the amount of young talent the Ducks have on defense.
Helgesen is still on his entry level contract and is signed for one more season. He’ll be a restricted free agent when his contract is up. At this point, it’s tough to say what Helgesen’s future holds. If he has a great season with Utah or a solid one in San Diego, the Ducks could decide to bring him back because of his versatility. However, if he struggles this season, the Ducks will probably choose to not qualify him and let him become a free agent in a year’s time.
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