DETROIT – Danny DeKeyser could think of a hundred reasons to sign with another NHL club. But ultimately, the heart won out for this spring’s undrafted free agent catch.
“I definitely grew up a big Wings’ fan and to have a chance to play for you hometown team is definitely something special,” he said. “I just looked at what some of the best places would be to play and what they had on the blue line and where I would fit in. Here there are quite a few young guys and a good group of veterans. I thought it would be a good fit for me.”
The Red Wings won the sweepstakes for the former Western Michigan University standout that for more than a year was pursued by NHL general managers, who failed to convince the 6-foot-3 defenseman to leave school after his sophomore season.
DeKeyser is a smooth skating puck-mover with great size, but like most young players today, he needs to gain physical strength. Still, general manager Ken Holland indicated Saturday that fans will likely get to see the 22-year-old Clay Township, Mich., native in a Red Wings’ game this season.
The Wings signed DeKeyser to a two-year entry-level contract, which means he can be sent down to Grand Rapids at any time without having to clear waivers. Clubs will be able to increase their rosters on April 3, the same day as the league’s trade deadline.
“I think we’re going to keep him here for basically the whole year,” Holland said. “Now that doesn’t mean you can’t send him down for a day or two.”
DeKeyser grew-up in Macomb, where he was a huge Nicklas Lidstrom fan, and eventually graduated from De La Salle Collegiate, an all-boys Catholic high school in neighboring Warren, in 2008. Out of respect for his boyhood idol, DeKeyser wore No. 5 at WMU. But with that number out of circulation he will wear No. 65, as he did for his first practice with his new teammates Saturday.
“It was good. I hadn’t skated in a few days so I’m trying to get my legs back underneath me. It was a good skate, good tempo,” he said. “I just need to get adjusted to the next level. Guys a little bit bigger and stronger and quicker so that’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment there for me, but I think I can come in here and be fine.
“I want to be a big part of the team here. I just have to work hard and that’s all I can do then we’ll see what happens from there.”
Lidstrom, who is in Detroit this weekend and will attend Sunday’s matinee against the Chicago Blackhawks, certainly liked what he saw from the young defenseman in Saturday’s practice.
“He's a very good skater. He looked confident out there,” Lidstrom said. “I'm sure he was nervous on the inside coming out and skating for the first time with the guys. He looked confident, looks like he's a good puck-moving defenseman.”
As DeKeyser mulled over his options last week, he got to speak to his idol before finally meeting him at The Joe on Saturday.
“He called me the other day when I was going through the decision process and talked to me for a few minutes,” DeKeyser said. “Then I got to meet him here today. So it was pretty special. That helped in my decision definitely.”
Lidstrom was happy to help sway the young man’s mind.
“We had a good little chat,” Lidstrom said. “I just told him about the positive things I've seen and learned over the years here with the team. … He's coming to a very good organization, very committed organization, a team that wants to win, ownership that wants to win. He's from the area, so I'm sure he's very excited about playing here in front of his family.”
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