DETROIT – Dependable. Steady. Consistent.
Red Wings teammates and coaches say these adjectives best describe Danny DeKeyser since the 24-year-old defenseman made his NHL debut nearly three years ago.
“I think he’s even more comfortable on the ice (now),” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It doesn’t matter what situation you put him in he seems to always have a solution for it. He’s an extremely smart player, reads the game extremely well and he gets out of the corner with the puck a lot of times. Even though he doesn’t always skate it out of the corner, he makes that pass that gets us going instead of us spending more time on defense.”
Considered by many to be a late-bloomer, the Detroit native – who was an undrafted free-agent signing out of college during the 2013 lockout-shortened season – will never be mistaken for as an offensive-minded defenseman.
Ever as his responsibilities have grown this season with Kyle Quincey, his regular defensive partner, DeKeyser understands his role as a 6-foot-3 puck mover and is fine with that characterization.
“I’m just trying to play it smart and solid,” DeKeyser said. “That’s basically what my game is and when I’m playing well I’m making easy plays, simple passes, playing good defensively and jumping into play when I can. Try and get the pucks through from the point and that kind of stuff.”
It’s role that DeKeyser has comfortably played since he was a 16-year-old playing midget major for Compuware.
With 28 games left in the regular season, DeKeyser has a great chance at surpassing his single-season totals for assists and points. He’s already tied his career high for assists (19) which was set last season, and his 21 points this season are just four shy from establishing a new personal best that he produced as a 19-year-old while playing for the Trail Smoke Eaters in the British Columbia Hockey League.
In less than three full seasons with the Wings, DeKeyser has earned a reputation for his attributions as a rock-steady blue liner, which has helped revamp the Wings’ defensive corps. He also leads all team defensemen with a plus-6 rating in 52 games.
“He makes the right play all the time basically everywhere,” coach Mike Babcock said. “He makes the least mistakes of anybody on our back end. He’s an elite skater, he’s got an elite mind. He’s ultra-competitive. He comes every day ready to play. He’s changed our whole back end.”
DeKeyser is also making a difference as the lone point player on the Wings’ second power-play unit. Since late December, DeKeyser has been added to the special-teams group, working primarily with Tomas Tatar, Pavel Datsyuk, Riley Sheahan and Darren Helm.
“It’s a good confidence booster,” said DeKeyser, who played on the power play at Western Michigan University. “We have plenty of guys in here that can play in that spot. You have to be on top of your game every night or someone else is going to be taking your spot so you have to be 100 percent.”
The Wings’ power play has been on an incredible roll lately, going 7-for-18 while producing goals in five straight games. The Wings can equal their season-high power-play goal streak tonight against Montreal. Detroit scored goals in six straight games between Nov. 24 and Dec. 4, converting on 9-of-24 chances.
“We have two units that are clicking,” DeKeyser said. “The five guys on those units are playing well together and reading well off each other. We’re just making plays, getting pucks to the net. That’s what you have to do, get pucks to the paint. You saw Helm’s goal last game, he just tried to throw it on net and it came right to him and he banged it in. It’s plays like that you can’t get too cute out there.”
Though DeKeyser has just six power-play points, all assists, he continues to impress teammates with his ability, especially on zone reentry.
“I think he’s been doing great,” Kronwall said. “Even if the pucks aren’t going in all the time he’s making the right plays and making the right decisions. That’s what DK does. He’s been doing that since day one since he got here. He’s a very smart player and makes the right decision all the time.”