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DeKeyser to miss 3-4 weeks

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin will play on the wing in his fifth preseason game Friday. (Photo by Dana Wakiji/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- Just as Mike Green is ready to return from a tender groin, his defense partner gets hurt.

Wings general manager Ken Holland told reporters Friday that Danny DeKeyser will miss 3-4 weeks with a strained ligament in his left foot.

DeKeyser, 25, was injured late in the third period of Wednesday's 7-2 exhibition win in Pittsburgh.

"I think Danny’s an excellent defenseman in the league," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I think he’s an underrated player in the league, especially nationally, across both nations. I think Danny’s become an elite top-two defenseman in the NHL. With that said, one thing we have in this organization is depth. With Danny out for the 3-4 weeks, I’m very confident we’ll dress six defensemen that are absolutely good enough to win and now we just got to execute on a nightly basis."

In the pre-game morning skate, Green was paired with Xavier Ouellet.

"He skates well and moves the puck well," Green said. "It'll be fun to sort of see how he plays the game and how we can read off each other. It's always interesting to play with new guys and see their habits and see how things go. I'm excited to play with him for sure."

Just because Green and Ouellet are paired for tonight does not necessarily mean that's the direction the Wings will go for the regular season.

Kyle Quincey is another option.

"Quincey did a great job as a top-4 d-man last year," Blashill said. "You talk about NHL experience, I think it’s the job they do in the NHL and he’s done a real good job. He’s been a top-four defenseman lots of moments in his career. So he’s somebody we certainly feel comfortable playing in those roles."

Blashill mentioned other defensemen who might move into a role with the team in DeKeyser's absence.

"Xavier is a very smart hockey player," Blashill said. "I think Alexey Marchenko is a very smart hockey player. Nick Jensen is smart. Ryan Sproul brings a skill set, Brian Lashoff brings a skill set. We’ll make a decision after the weekend. We’ll get a chance to watch these guys play a couple more games and decide who the best fit is."

Lashoff has 117 NHL games, Ouellet 25 games, Marchenko 14 games, Sproul one game and Jensen zero games.

"I think as players, you build resumes and part of the resume is an NHL experience and what you’ve done in the league so I think that's part of it," Blashill said. "I think the other side of it is who we think is ready to execute at the highest level and you kind of combine it all and say who do we think give us our best chance to win."

Ouellet said he's looking forward to playing with Green and performing as well as he can.

"My job is to be ready to play," Ouellet said. "I have no control of the injuries or the decisions they take or whatever is going to happen. All I can do is play my best and hope to have another opportunity and take it every time."

Marchenko currently has an undisclosed injury but he skated with Jakub Kindl (illness) and Darren Helm (concussion, slight shoulder separation) before practice Friday.

"I don’t see Marchy being in tomorrow but I do see him being ready for the regular season if that’s the decision we make," Blashill said.

The Wings are hopeful that Kindl will be able to play in Toronto Saturday night.

LARKIN ON THE WING: Rookie Dylan Larkin has mostly played center during the preseason but tonight he'll be on the wing with Brad Richards at center and Tomas Tatar on the other wing.

"We’ll start that way and then we’ll adjust," Blashill said. "When Larkin came to us in Grand Rapids we used him on the wing. Some guys that bothers a lot, some guys it doesn’t. It doesn’t seem to bother him. He kind of plays the same way no matter the position."

Larkin, 19, will be playing in his fifth game and he welcomes the challenge of shifting to wing.

"Moving around can be good or it can be bad, but that’s for the coaches, trying to see what works and put me in different situations to see what I can do," Larkin said. "Even tonight playing on the wing, I haven’t played on the wing in quite some time. It’s a new experience and a new opportunity.

"I think when you’re given an opportunity to be on a line with Richie and Tats you want to just skate and make plays. I’m just going to use my speed."

Tatar, 24, was in Larkin's position not too long ago.

"Obviously he has lots of talent, he's looking really sharp this camp," Tatar said. "He's battling for a spot, that's probably what the coach likes to see from him so he's doing great so far. It's an opportunity for him to show he can be a top 6 forward."

Larkin has three goals, one assist and is plus-3 in four games.

Only Tatar has more goals with four in three games. Teemu Pulkkinen and Andreas Athanasiou also have three goals.

"I think it’s good to score some goals and put up some numbers," Larkin said. "I’ve been put in situations where I’ve been on the top line and playing against other team’s shutdown lines or whatever you want to call it and still put up some numbers. I feel good getting into the season."

Larkin has had a chance to play against veterans like Boston's Patrice Bergeron and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.

"You learn a lot – how they compete, how you can’t take a shift off because it’s going to be in the back of your net," Larkin said. "It’s been a great experience, no matter what happens, playing against those guys. It’s pretty cool playing against the guys you grew up watching."

PULKKINEN PRACTICES; HELM SKATES: Teemu Pulkkinen, who has not played since Sept. 24 against Pittsburgh because of an upper-body injury but practiced Friday.

Blashill said they hoped Pulkkinen would play Saturday in Toronto.

Helm still could be ready by opening night next Friday.

"We’re hoping Helm will but we’re taking that day to day, we don’t know that for certain," Blashill said.

BABCOCK IS BACK: Former Wings coach Mike Babcock is back in Detroit as his Toronto Maple Leafs play the Wings in a home-and-home exhibition series.

Although the big night will be the Wings' regular-season home opener against the Leafs, Blashill and his players have already been asked about the former coach.

"I wouldn’t be standing here today if it wasn’t for Mike, at least not at this moment," Blashill said. "It might have taken me longer without question. Mike’s somebody who I learned a ton from, both the year I worked for him and three years after, we had a real special relationship when I was in the American League, where I was able to talk to him on a regular basis and he helped me out a lot in those areas. And then he’s a good friend. But I’ve also coached against guys that I’ve worked with and worked for in the past. So from that aspect it’s not really different. It’s our team playing against their team and we’ll get ready."

Tatar said he also learned a lot from Babcock.

"He helped me a lot, obviously, gave me a chance like a young guy to become a Red Wing," Tatar said. "He taught me well. He was hard on me but he was trying to help me. I understood that and I really appreciate that. I hope he will have a good time in Toronto, wish him best luck."

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