DETROIT – There are few sounds as sweet as netting your first professional goal.
“It was pretty special for me,” said Danny DeKeyser. “It’s always good to get the first goal and get it out of the way. It feels like there’s a little bit of a weight on your shoulders trying to get the first one so it felt good, it felt like a relief.”
DeKeyser scored his first professional goal in a 4-2 loss Monday at Winnipeg. The rookie defenseman was the lucky recipient of a shorthanded faceoff, as Stephen Weiss swiftly won the draw and passed the puck back to Niklas Kronwall. Kronner quickly found DeKeyser for the slapshot at 10:05 of the second period, a memory the 23-year-old won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
“It was right in the middle of the game, but a few guys on the bench said congrats on the first goal,” DeKeyser said. “It was good to get it, get it out of the way and keep playing.”
The defenseman did just that, as he’s done all season for the Red Wings. But the road to play for his favorite childhood team was quite the unconventional one.
DeKeyser played for the BCHL’s Trail Smoke Eaters in 2008-09 and the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers in 2009-10, before becoming a Western Michigan Bronco for three years. The Detroit, Michigan, native was named a Second-Team All-American during his sophomore and junior years at WMU, and also earned the CCHA’s Best Defensive Defenseman award.
But despite the successful years and honors, DeKeyser went undrafted in 2013. The draft’s loss turned out to be the Red Wings’ gain, as Detroit signed the defenseman as an undrafted free agent on March 30, 2013.
“Coming in the way he did last year, it really is impressive,” Kronwall said. “I don’t think people realize what he did. To come in straight from college and basically come in and play top-four minutes, it’s very unusual. But he comes from a good background, he’s a really good guy, a really good young player, who wants to learn, asking questions and just wants to improve and get better all the time.”
There’s no doubt that DeKeyser has continued to improve in his 27 games with the Red Wings. The 23-year-old was promoted to the top defensive pairing with Kronwall during a recent game in Vancouver, matching up across from the canucks’ top forward line of Ryan Kesler and Henrik and Daniel Sedin, one of the NHL’s most powerful lines.
But as defensemen know all too well, it’s not necessarily about the plays you make, but the mistakes you avoid. DeKeyser is following that principle like a professional far beyond his 23 years.
“He’s doing so many other good things for us out there,” said Kronwall. “He’s helping our team in so many ways that scoring maybe hasn’t been that big a part of it so to speak. But now he’s stepped up, he’s got a good shot and we’d like for him to use it as often as possible.”
With his first goal jitters behind him, DeKeyser may start looking for his shot more, but scoring has never been one of the defenseman’s priorities. DeKeyser only scored eight goals in the BCHL, one in the USHL and 12 in his three years at WMU, recording a total of twenty-one goals in 217 games.
He may not be an offensive powerhouse, but you can bet DeKeyser remembers the first time he netted a goal at each level.
“It’s something when you get your first goal, you’re going to remember them,” said DeKeyser. “It’s a pretty good feeling.”
And the most memorable one? It’s not that hard to guess.
“This one for sure,” DeKeyser said with a laugh. “The college goals are nice and the junior goals are nice, too but it’s nothing like your first NHL goal I don’t think.”
The defenseman grew up a Detroit fan donning the sacred No. 5, but his first NHL goal would have been memorable whether or not he was wearing Red and White.
“I think no matter who you score your first goal with it’s going to be pretty special,” DeKeyser said. “I know it could’ve been with anybody but it’s still exciting.”
The way DeKeyser has been playing, his first goal will be far from his last.
“He’s just taking everything in and he’s been great for us so far this year,” said Kronwall. “He’s one of our most steady D-men this season so far.”
But not every goal will have such a special place in his heart, or on his wall.
“I’ll probably just frame it and put it on the wall,” said DeKeyser of the puck.
The puck will have plenty of company on the wall in the coming years, as the 23-year-old’s NHL journey has just begun.