Clearly, Adam Helewka listened to the San Jose Sharks coaches.
When the Sharks’ fourth-round pick left his first-ever NHL training camp last fall to return to the Spokane Chiefs, the San Jose people suggested that he work on certain aspects of his game during his final WHL season.
Mission accomplished. The Red Deer Rebels forward, acquired from the Chiefs in January, realized a dream when he signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Sharks Thursday that includes a US $80,000 bonus.
“I guess they (Sharks) liked what they’ve seen so far this season,” said Helewka. “I’m very happy to be with San Jose, its a great organization.
“With all the hard work over the years, it’s a good feeling to see it all kind of pay off here. I know that it’s a start to a lot of things and it’s good for my parents as well with the stuff they’ve gone through during my career and how they’ve helped me get to this point.”
Helewka, a gifted offensive player, was selected by the Sharks after scoring 44 goals last season with Spokane. The San Jose training camp in September was an eye-opener for the Burnaby, B.C., product who returned to the junior ranks armed with some valuable advice.
“They told me to just work on my physicality a bit, get quicker to adapt to the pro level and just be more of a two-way player,” he said. “They wanted me to focus on defence as well as play a bit heavier… throwing the body around and winning battles.”
Helewka, 20, has put up 32 points — 18 goals included — in 26 games with the Rebels while adapting to the style of play preferred by the Red Deer coaching staff.
“It’s been OK the last five or six (games),” he said, in reference to his performance with his new club. “I know come playoff time myself and a lot of other guys are going to have to pick it up in terms of playing faster and heavier … playing the way our coaches are trying to get us all playing together.”
While the Rebels’ victims — the Regina Pats and Swift Current Broncos — are not WHL heavyweights, Helewka feels the team took some strides in a positive direction after allowing just three goals in total during a recent 2-0 road trip that concluded Tuesday.
“We’re really trying to focus on the defensive side of our game right now,” he said. “That’s a good result to see— not letting in as many goals. Now we just have to keep building on it.”
The Rebels entertain the Calgary Hitmen tonight in a proverbial four-pointer. The Hitmen sit five points back of the Rebels, who are third in the Eastern Conference, with Calgary having a game in hand.
The clubs meet again Sunday in Calgary.
“These are two of the biggest games we’re going to play,” said Helewka. “And then we have two against Lethbridge next weekend.
“We needs these points because we’re neck and neck with Calgary. We know how important these games are and we’ll go out and play the way we know we can and the way we need to, which is playing fast and using our size and strength to advantage. If we do that, I think we’ll be OK.”
If the regular season ended today, the Rebels and Hitmen would meet in a first-round playoff series, lending even more importance to the weekend matches.
“That’s another part of it,” said Helewka. “The mental side is kind of letting them know how it’s going to be and how we want to control the games.”