DETROIT -- Detroit Red Wings rookie defenseman Dan DeKeyser met with reporters this past weekend, just a day after choosing to play for the team he grew up watching.
He answered a litany of questions with no problem, but when it came to why he chose to wear No. 65 with the Red Wings … well, that's when it got fun.
"They gave me a few different numbers to pick from, so it was kind of a random pick, I guess," DeKeyser said. "It had a 5 in it."
Nicklas Lidstrom paid the Red Wings a visit this past weekend and took some time with reporters to discuss his post-playing career. (Photo: Dave Reginek)
Turns out that for most of his career -- from youth levels all the way up through college -- the undrafted late-bloomer from Macomb, Mich., had worn the No. 5 on his back.
"Do I have to ask why you wore that particular number so often?" a reporter asked him.
DeKeyser blushed. He then shook his head and flashed a wide smile.
"I don't think you do," he said. "But I think you know who my idol was … so I don't have to say."
His "idol" just happened to be walking through the Red Wings' locker room at the time.
Legendary former Red Wings defenseman and captain Nicklas Lidstrom was visiting with former teammates and looking just about the same as he did a year ago -- before opting to retire last June after a remarkable 20-year career and return to Sweden with his wife and kids.
As luck would have it, "The Perfect Human" brought his family back to the United States for a vacation this past week and made sure to swing by Joe Louis Arena for a practice and Sunday's game against the Chicago Blackhawks -- which didn't go so great after a 7-1 Detroit loss on Gordie Howe's 85th birthday.
Lidstrom also squeezed in a recruiting phone conversation that helped reel in DeKeyser for Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and even found some time for reporters -- who not only wanted to say hello, but also pick his brain.
Here are the highlights of that wide-ranging conversation with Lidstrom this weekend:
What did you say to Dan DeKeyser when you spoke to him on the phone?
"I talked to him a few days ago. He's coming to a very good organization and a very committed organization … a team that wants to win, [and] ownership that wants to win. He's from the area, so I'm sure he's very excited about playing here in front of his family.''
How did you end up on the phone with him?
"Kenny handed him the phone and told him it was me. We had a good little chat. I just told him about the positive things I've seen and learned over the years here with the team.''
Did he sound surprised?
"I don't think he was ready for my call. I don't think he was expecting me to call him. It was more listening to what I had to say. He had a lot of teams that were asking for him and had meetings with a lot of teams, so I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision for him. We're very happy to have him here.''
It was only one practice, but what did you think of DeKeyser from what you saw on the ice?
"He's a very good skater. He looked confident out there. I'm sure he was nervous on the inside, coming out and skating for the first time with the guys. He looked confident. It looks like he's a good puck-moving defenseman.''
What do you think of Tomas Holmstrom as a youth hockey coach here in suburban Detroit?
"If you ask him, he's one of the best there is. ‘Homer' is very good with the kids. I watched a couple practices, and he's very good with the kids. He wants to teach the kids, whether it's stick-handling or skating or whatever. He's having fun with the kids, joking around. But he's got that serious side to him as well. I think he's very fitting to be a youth hockey coach.''
So, what have you been up to over in Sweden?
"I'm helping out with my 12-year-old's team, being on the ice, being an assistant coach. I'm been doing some scouting for the Wings, looking at some of their players. I'm also going to be an ambassador for the World Championships that are going to be played in Sweden. So, I've got some little things here and there to stay busy. It keeps me going to rinks and going on the ice every now and then. I'm just enjoying being home more, but still going to the rinks.''
Do you miss this, the NHL?
"Yeah, I miss it. I enjoy coming here and meeting the guys and talking to the guys and being in the locker room again. I was here a month and a half ago and it was fun being at the game, the fans and the electricity in the building.''
What brought you back this time?
"We're going on vacation. I brought the whole family, all the kids. We stopped by for a few days for the kids to see some of their friends and meet the Holmstroms again and watch the game [Sunday].''
What do you think of the Red Wings going to the Eastern Conference?
"It'll help the team, help the guys traveling-wise, shorter trips. You won't have the long West coast trips where you're gone a long time and you had to adjust to the time difference. It'll help the guys getting ready for the next game.''
Nicklas Lidstrom expects prospect Dan DeKeyser to fit in nicely within the Red Wings organization. (Photo: Dave Reginek)
Would you have continued playing if they'd moved earlier?
"No. That wasn't part of my decision at all. It probably would have helped me, too, but it wasn't part of my decision.''
What do you think of Calle Jarnkrok, one of the Red Wings' top forward prospects? Have you seen him play?
"He's a very skilled forward, a very shifty guy, he's quick and he's got quick hands. He sees the ice very well. He's got real good hockey sense. He's a young kid. He needs to get stronger and get used to playing on this ice surface, but he's got a lot of potential.''
He gets compared to Henrik Zetterberg sometimes by the Red Wings front office. Do you see that, too?
"I think you see that. He's got that ability to hang onto the puck and not throw it away unless he has to. He can hold off guys and make that play when there's an opening and wait for that opening, too. You do see a lot of similarities to how Hank is playing.''
Do you think he's pretty close to playing in the NHL?
"I think so. I think he's ready for the next level and see how quick he can adapt to playing on smaller rinks and faster guys. But I know he's ready for that next step, next level.''