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Danny DeKeyser hoping to use worlds to get jump start on next season

Wings coach Jeff Blashill believes DeKeyser was playing best hockey at season's end

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - Danny DeKeyser still feels like he should be playing hockey.

So when the International Ice Hockey Federation men's world championship begins this week in Europe, DeKeyser will be there for Team USA.

"It's pretty early to be done," DeKeyser said. "In Michigan, the weather's not always that great in April, early May anyway so going to go do that and keep playing. Just try to have a good tournament leading into next season."

DeKeyser will join Wings teammates Dylan Larkin and Jimmy Howard in playing for the United States.

The three were part of a group that skated at Joe Louis Arena last week.

"That's a huge plus," DeKeyser said. "I played three or four years ago in it and Abby (Justin Abdelkader) was there, a couple other guys who I had known a little bit. It's always nice to know a few guys when you head over there."

In addition, the three Wings will have their coach, Jeff Blashill, as their coach over there.

DeKeyser said he hopes to use the tournament as a springboard for a better next season.

"I think kind of with the year that we had here, we didn't have the success that we wanted to," DeKeyser said. "Personally, I didn't have as good of a year as I would have liked either. It's just one of those things if you can get some confidence in you and do some good things on the ice and have a good tournament, I think that can help you out going into the start of next season."

Despite scoring two game-winning goals against the New York Islanders on Dec. 4 and Feb. 3, DeKeyser wasn't pleased with his season. He finished with four goals, eight assists and was minus-22.

"I didn't think I was as consistent as I needed to be," DeKeyser said. "Obviously some of my numbers weren't there either. I always try to be a plus player and I was pretty far down in the minuses this year so that's never a good thing. Some of that comes with team success as well but for me, I can just be more consistent, a little better defensively, moving the puck out of the zone, stuff like that."

It's the first time in DeKeyser's career that he finished as a minus player.

However, Blashill said that he thought DeKeyser was on an upward trend when the season ended.

"Danny, I thought played his best hockey late," Blashill said. "I thought Danny really played good hockey late in the year. So this gives him a chance to keep playing at that high level and building confidence for next year."

DeKeyser and Mike Green, and then later in the season Nick Jensen, were often matched up against other teams' top lines.

"It's always tough playing against those guys but somebody's got to do it," DeKeyser said. "So you got to be up to the task every night when you go out there and play the top-line guys. Because when they put you in that position, you got to help out the team and you got to do what you can to try to shut them down."

The Detroit native is only 27 so DeKeyser can't really remember the last time the Wings weren't in the playoffs.

"It's been pretty tough," DeKeyser said. "I think I was one or just born the last time they (didn't) make it. Obviously it's a big thing for the organization, it's a big thing for the players here and for the fans. We kind of felt like we let kind of the whole city down a little bit. It's not a good feeling and not something that you want to feel again next year."

Although DeKeyser joined captain Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Tatar in playing all 82 games, the team was decimated with injuries, losing 307 man-games.

"Injuries are always a big thing throughout the season," DeKeyser said. "But a lot of teams deal with injuries. It's just about trying to persevere through those and seeing what your young guys, when they get called up, can do when those injuries do happen."

The 307-game figure does not include Johan Franzen and Joe Vitale, who did not play at all due to post-concussion symptoms.

One of the highlights for DeKeyser was the final weekend of hockey at Joe Louis Arena, including the ceremony after the final game against the New Jersey Devils.

"I thought it was great," DeKeyser said. "It was really special to be a part of that and it was great to see a lot of the alumni, some of the older guys who used to play here back when I was growing up watching hockey. It was fun to kind of meet them and talk to them a little bit. Just see them around and having a good time.

"It was just good to see (Darren) McCarty and (Kirk) Maltby, Cheli (Chris Chelios) out there. You don't see those guys a lot and obviously Nick's (Lidstrom) here, he was a big idol of mine growing up. You don't see those guys all the time so it's nice to just chat them up when you see them."

The next time DeKeyser plays a game for the Wings, it will be at Little Caesars Arena.

Although it was sad to say goodbye to the Joe, the amenities for the players are going to be something special.

"Really excited," DeKeyser said. "I think our weight room is going to be top-notch. Just our facilities there that we really don't have the room for here or that they never really had here, some of the hot and cold tubs and whirlpools and stuff like that will help with injuries and different things like that. You hope you never get injuries but you're always going to have some. So hopefully that stuff will help and it'll just be, I think, a great feel walking in there."

For now, DeKeyser is in Milan, Italy for a few days of camp before the tournament gets underway May 5.

Team USA's games are in Cologne, Germany. DeKeyser's wife, Melissa, will join him midway through.

"She'll come over the last 12 days or two weeks," DeKeyser said. "I think we're over there for two weeks, first week's kind of a little training camp in Italy and then we'll go to Germany. She'll come for the second half of that, which is great."

The last time DeKeyser played in the world championship in 2014, they started in Germany before heading to Belarus.

"We kind of had a little training camp there for five days and then we went to Belarus," DeKeyser said. "I've never been to Italy though, so I'm looking forward to some Italian subs and pasta."

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