MONTREAL -- Dwight Helminen will be playing his first NHL game tonight, centering the fourth line for the Hurricanes.
What a way to make a debut.
In Montreal, against the Canadiens. In an important road game for the Canes. And being asked to replace another rookie, Brandon Sutter, who had become a key contributor in just seven games before his concussion against the New York Islanders.
"I'm extremely excited," Helminen said today at the Bell Centre. "Getting an opportunity to play in one of the best buildings in the league is something I'll never forget. There will be a lot of emotions running in this game.
"It's a great opportunity for me. It's unfortunate, the circumstances, but I'm excited to come up here and get a chance to do what they ask me to do and do a good job at it. I think they're looking to me for energy and to put in good shifts and be physical."
Helminen, 25, said his parents drove in from Michigan to Albany, N.Y., over the weekend to see him play for the River Rats in the AHL. That was then. Tonight, they'll be at the Bell Centre watching their son in an NHL game.
For Helminen, so much changed in such a short time. It was a lot to think about on the plane ride to Montreal to join the Canes.
"For a little bit there, I was saying, 'Wow, this is crazy,'" he said.
Helminen played three years of college hockey at Michigan, then spent parts of two seasons in Hartford (AHL) and Charlotte (ECHL). Last season, he played with JVP Jyvaskyla in Finland's SM-Liga, where he had 20 goals and 25 assists in 52 games.
Helminen signed a one-year, free-agent contract with Carolina in July, had a strong training camp and was one of the last players reassigned. Tonight, he will center a line with Dan LaCouture and Wade Brookbank.
"I'm looking for a steady performance out of him," Canes coach Peter Laviolette said. "It's going to be, for me, more comfortable to have a center on the fourth line where we've been putting Danny (LaCouture) there and it's not natural for him.
"Dwight played well down in Albany. He had a good camp, too."