DETROIT – Dan Cleary arrived in Detroit three seasons ago on a try-out basis.
On Tuesday evening, the Red Wings rewarded the veteran right wing with a shiny new five-year contract.
Terms of the agreement were not available.
“It’s been an exciting process,” said Cleary, 29. “It’s one of my proudest days ever. It’s amazing.”
Cleary has made an impact over the last two seasons with the Red Wings. The former first-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, Cleary has put together back-to-back 20-goals seasons while building a reputation as a versatile asset.
“We really think he’s coming into the best years of his career,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He came here looking for an opportunity three years ago and I think he’s become a real important two-way player for us.”
After Steve Yzerman’s retirement and the departure of Brendan Shanahan to free agency, Cleary has become a viable offensive source for the Wings.
“In his first year, Dan really won Mike Babcock over by being a real good penalty killer,” Holland said. “He played 77 games and had three goals. Then we lost Shanahan and some people left so there was some opportunity there. He had 20 goals last year and played very well for us in the playoffs. He’s back this year with another 20-goal season.”
Cleary is currently on injured reserve, recovering from a fractured jaw suffered during a game in Toronto on Feb. 9.
Before his injury, he was experiencing a successful stretch, winning the team’s ‘hardest working’ player of the month award for January. In that month, he netted seven goals with six assists while posting a plus-11 rating in 12 games that included a pair of goals in the Wings’ 3-2 victory over Vancouver on Jan. 17.
For the season, Cleary, who hopes to return to the Wings’ lineup for the start of the playoffs, has 40 points and is a plus-23.
Cleary spent parts of two seasons with Chicago before being traded to Edmonton at the end of the 1998-99 season. He then played four seasons with the Oilers, compiling 31 goals and 55 assists in 220 games. In 2003, he signed with Phoenix and scored six goals and 11 assists in 68 contests.
“It’s definitely taken me some time to find my game,” Cleary said. “Everything came at the same time when I came to Detroit. Obviously, I have a strong family and good wife behind who has gotten me to where I’m at today. I’m very thankful for Detroit giving me a chance.”