DENVER – Danny DeKeyser’s parents and two of his six siblings traveled to Arizona on Thursday hoping to see the rookie defenseman make his NHL debut.
That didn’t happen, but all isn’t lost.
Though the DeKeysers have to wait an extra day, the delay will be well-worth it when they watch their son and brother begin his pro career tonight against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center.
“It’ll be a good night. There’ll be some energy for sure,” said DeKeyser, in an exclusive interview with DetroitRedWings.com.
After sifting through offers from several NHL clubs last week, DeKeyser, who was an undrafted free agent, signed a two-year contract with the Red Wings last Saturday.
DeKeyser’s parents, Linda and Mick, along with a half-brother, Gerard, and a half-sister, Jennifer, are expected to attend the game.
“I’ll be amped up and ready to go,” said DeKeyser, who learned that he was playing when Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told him after Thursday’s game in Phoenix. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time now, so hopefully it stays that way into the game and I’m excited to get playing here.”
A hometown kid, born in Detroit and raised in Macomb County where he grew-up rooting for the Red Wings, DeKeyser is definitely a special Hockeytown story.
A 2008 graduate of De La Salle Collegiate, an all-boys Catholic high school in suburban Warren, DeKeyser didn’t play athletics for the Pilots, instead, choosing the Compuware junior program where he played Midget AAA.
But tonight, he will become the second De La Salle alumnus to reach the NHL, with Craig Wolanin – who played 13 seasons as a NHL defenseman with New Jersey, Quebec, Tampa Bay and Toronto – being the first.
DeKeyser is just the latest of a who’s who of Michigan-born players to play at least one game for the hometown Red Wings, including forward Justin Abdelkader, who is in his fourth season. The list of 22 former players is headed by defensemen Mark Howe, Brian Rafalski and Derian Hatcher, and centers Jimmy Carson and Mike Modano.
A tall, gangly kid, DeKeyser, who is 6-foot-3 and 190-pounds, had the wherewithal to chase his dream, playing junior seasons in British Columbia, then Iowa, before landing a scholarship at Western Michigan University.
In three seasons with the Broncos, DeKeyser grew from being an obscure defenseman with a long reach to the hottest commodity in the NHL as a polished skater who makes solid decisions with the puck all of the time.
There’s been nothing this week to indicate that DeKeyser won’t be everything as advertised.
“I like that he’s a real good defender,” Babcock said. “He skates good … the puck’s on his forehand, and he seems to pass the puck real well. He’s obviously good (but) at his level he’s been a dominant player there for the last two years, and we’re excited to have him.”
While at WMU, league coaches named him the best defensive defenseman for two straight seasons. He produced 12 goals and 37 assists in 118 career college games.
Wings coaches have brought DeKeyser up to speed quickly this week. He led the team in on-ice stretches at practices, and skated in two pregame warm-ups though he wasn’t in the lineup those nights.
But DeKeyser will be in the lineup tonight, as will two other defensemen who didn’t play in Thursday’s 4-2 loss at Phoenix. Kyle Quincey, who missed the last nine games with facial fractures, and Ian White will play against the Avs.
The Wings canceled today’s morning skating, opting to stay at the team hotel and rest for their second game on back-to-back nights, making tonight’s pre-game preparations that more important for a 22-year-old making his pro debut.
“I always think that pre-game skates always help, especially for young guys who are new to the league,” DeKeyser said. “They just need to learn about the surroundings, know the arena, the boards, stuff like that, so I think it helps in that matter, and it also helps in feeling comfortable for the game, because you know what to expect when you step on the ice so you’re all set to go.”
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