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DeKeyser's Drive

Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser has gone from an undrafted college signee to an elite, No. 1 blueliner in Detroit in under four years

by Josh Berenter @JBerenter /

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- It was a life-changing summer for Danny DeKeyser.

The Red Wings defenseman signed a six-year, $30 million contract on July 26, got married September 3, helped start his own apparel line and now, he's come into training camp ready be a No. 1 blueliner and a leader in the Wings' locker room.

DeKeyser, who earned a career-high eight goals last season, along with a team-high 107 blocked shots and a team-high 21:49 time on ice, said he just wants to be the best player he can be and help the Red Wings win games anyway he can.

"I just try to take steps forward every year," DeKeyser said Sunday during Day 3 of training camp at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City. "I'm trying to do that again this year. Just improve on my game, be better than I have been in the past and just be a better player."

The 26-year-old isn't the most vocal player in the locker room, but after playing 234 career games, DeKeyser said he's happy to become a leader to young Red Wings players on and off the ice

"I've been in the league a little over three years, so not a long time, but enough to where I'm comfortable now," he said. "I can see when young guys come in, it can be tough sometimes, so it's always good to try to help other guys out and try to lead by example."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill has been with DeKeyser at three different levels--collegiately at Western Michigan University in 2010-11, in the American Hockey League with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2013 and now in Detroit--and has watched DeKeyser's confidence grow as his role has increased year after year.

"I've known him going back a long time now," Blashill said. "He's not a lot different than he used to be. He was never the most boisterous person. He was a reserved guy who, I think for whatever reason, always was really liked by his teammates. He had a quiet confidence to him and I think he still does. I think as guys grow in the league, their confidence gets that much higher and you've seen that off the ice."

In addition to watching DeKeyser's confidence grow over the last several years, Blashill said he's enjoyed watching DeKeyser's vast improvement on the ice in all areas of the game.

"Danny took another step forward last year in his career," Blashill said. "I think he's one of the elite defenders in the National Hockey League. I think he's great at defensive skating, I think he's got great stick on puck and I think he gets the puck out of your end really well. I thought he obviously took a real step offensively."

Although DeKeyser is comfortable in his role, the 6-foot-3, 191-pounder said he's excited to have a wealth of several talented, young defensemen in camp, including Ryan Sproul, Nick Jensen and Xavier Ouellet, which creates competition on the blue line and makes everyone better.

"Anytime there's competition for spots, it helps everybody because it just pushes everybody," DeKeyser said. "Nobody gets too comfortable. You're always looking over your shoulder, knowing that there's guys coming up that can potentially take your spot."

While DeKeyser is expected to maintain his spot as a top-two blueliner for the extended future, one thing to watch this season is how DeKeyser continues to improve under the tutelage of new Red Wings assistant Doug Houda, who will work with Detroit's defensemen.

"So far it's been good," DeKeyser said about his first interactions with Houda at training camp. "I didn't know a whole lot about him coming into camp, but I'm starting to get to know him a little bit. Little things here and there, little points of advice that he gives are good so far."

In addition to adjusting to the guidance of a new assistant coach, DeKeyser has also had to adjust to a new defensive partner in Brendan Smith.

"He's a good player," DeKeyser said about Smith, who he's been paired with in training camp. "He skates well, he's got some offensive instincts and so far, I've liked playing with him. We work well together. We should be a good pair."

And while DeKeyser has been focused on training camp and preparing for the Farewell Season at The Joe, he's also managed to keep an eye on his alma mater's impressive football season thus far, as Western Michigan has started 4-0 for the first time since 1994, including two wins against Big Ten teams.

"Oh yeah, for sure," he said when asked if he's been paying attention to the Broncos' success. "I've followed them every weekend. They've had a great start and it's fun to see."

The Red Wings wrap up camp Monday afternoon with the annual Red & White Game at Centre Ice Arena. After the scrimmage, the team returns to Detroit to prepare for its preseason opener on Tuesday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

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