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DeKeyser and Witkowski looking forward to Yzerman-led Red Wings

Veteran defensemen envision a quick turnaround based on new GM's track record

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner /

DETROIT -- It's been a little over a month since Steve Yzerman has taken over the reins of the Detroit Red Wings as their new general manager.

And while Wings fans are still euphoric about The Captain returning home, Detroit's players haven't had the opportunity to weigh in on the organization's sudden regime change.

On Wednesday, Wings defensemen Danny DeKeyser and Luke Witkowski were back at Little Caesars Arena taking part in the second annual Road & Bicycle Safety Program celebration. The Red Wings, in partnership with Chevrolet, presented new bicycles to more than 500 second-grade students from Detroit Public Schools Community District who had just completed the program.

Over the mayhem of 500-plus elementary school children celebrating their new bicycles, the veteran Red Wings defensemen addressed the recent changes at the top of the Wings hierarchy.

"It was pretty surprising, but at the same time you definitely heard rumblings over the past year or two with Yzerman possibly joining the organization," DeKeyser said. "I didn't know the extent of how true those rumors were, so I was surprised when they announced he was coming to be the GM.

"Everybody saw that happen (Yzerman stepping down as Tampa's GM) before training camp last year, but as far as stuff like that goes, I guess players, we kind of see that and say, 'Hey, did you see that?' or whatever, but we really don't sit around and discuss it. Whatever happens happens.

"In sports that's kind of the mindset you've got to have sometimes of whatever happens happens and you have to do the best you can under any circumstances."

Born in Detroit and raised in its suburbs, DeKeyser, 29, remembers Yzerman's exploits as a player.

"I know his heart and soul has always been with Detroit from the time he played to moving forward being the general manager," DeKeyser said. "I definitely have some memories of him in those deep playoff runs, playing on one leg, having the knee issue, the overtime goal against St. Louis, stepping over the blue line, putting a slapshot top corner.

"Those are the memories a lot of fans in Detroit have as well. He's done so much for the organization, I'm really hoping he pushes us forward to take the next step."

Witkowski, also 29 and a Michigan native, was with Tampa Bay from 2014-15 through 2016-17 during Yzerman's stint as the Lightning GM and recalls him being approachable and completely focused on the task at hand.

"You see him every day. If he's in town, he's there every day," Witkowski said. "I'll never forget meeting him for the first time. He's very humble but he's going to demand a lot out of guys.

"The fact that the first time I met him, he introduced himself and he knew my full name, I was like, wow. For one, that speaks volumes about him as a person. It kind of blew me away that he knew who I was."

This July 1, Witkowski becomes an unrestricted free agent and though he has admitted playing for the Red Wings is a "dream come true," he hasn't had any discussions about his contract situation.

"I haven't seen him (Yzerman) in person. I just sent him a text. He's pretty busy. He responded but I haven't seen him," Witkowski said. "We'll have to see what happens, supposed to talk to him here pretty soon. I don't know what's going to happen."

DeKeyser hasn't reached out to Yzerman, but he expects the two will have some interaction this offseason.

"No, I haven't talked to him at all," he said. "I'm just going to let it play its course, I'm sure he has a lot going on right now with this team. I'm sure he'll start talking to guys over this summer, so I'll be looking forward to hearing from him."

He's also eager to see how Yzerman rebuilds the Wings, especially since DeKeyser has faced his juggernaut Lightning teams for the past several seasons.

"You see how well he did with Tampa. I think he took over in 2010 and over the last eight, nine years now, they've had a great team for a lot of years," DeKeyser said. "He really put together a top team in the league, so he obviously knows what he's doing and I'm hoping in the next few years, starting next season, we become a top team."

While both players have completely embraced Yzerman as the Wings' new leader, they were appreciative of the job of former Wings general manager Ken Holland.

"A lot of things happened in a short amount of time. You hear all the rumors before and you kind of assume that he (Yzerman) was coming here," Witkowski said. "It's good for Kenny to land a spot in Edmonton and it's great for Detroit and great for Steve to be back as well."

Holland signed DeKeyser as an unrestricted free agent out of Western Michigan on March 30, 2013, when he was being pursued by several NHL teams.

It was a move former Detroit coach Mike Babcock cited as the reason the Red Wings made the playoffs that season.

"With Kenny, he's done so much for the organization over the past 20 or 30 years. He's been great to the players, obviously he's won a few Stanley Cups, which is a huge accomplishment for him," DeKeyser said. "I was definitely sad to see him go, with him stepping down it was a big move by him to send the organization in a different direction. I'm glad he got a job in Edmonton, but I will definitely miss him, too."

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