"He was headed in the right direction and last week, he suffered a setback," Blashill said. "From the time he was hurt, it's a huge impact on the team. He's our top defenseman and I think he's a super underrated player in the league. He's one of the better defenders in the league, one of the better guys at moving a puck and being efficient in the things that I think that the really good defensemen do.
"Now we've played without him for a long time, so not having him -- I don't anticipate him -- like I said, he could be out for potentially the season. Not having him is the reality of our situation. So we have to face it head on. It means that other guys are going to have to step up and play really good hockey. Is it challenging? Sure it's challenging. We were hoping to get him back. He was making progress, had a setback and this is where we're at today."
Last season, DeKeyser was limited to 52 games because of injury but led the team in average ice time at 21:58, ahead of Dylan Larkin's 21:51.
HRONEK'S INCREASED ROLE: In DeKeyser's absence, young Filip Hronek has seen his role increase significantly.
It is now Hronek, 22, who is the team's ice-time leader at 23:08.
"I think he's handled himself very well," Blashill said. "I think he's played very well, he's grown as a player. We've used the term grown in front of our eyes, he's gotten better and better, he's really, really competitive. He's got good moxie to him. What I like about him is when things go well, he doesn't melt. If he has a bad game, he comes back and has a really good game. If he has a bad shift, he comes back and has a good shift. I think that's a huge quality for success, especially for younger players that are forced or thrust into higher roles in the league than maybe they should be as quick as he is. So he's a real bright spot right now. I think he's going to be a real good defenseman in this league."
Assistant coach Doug Houda, who played defense for 15 years in the NHL, is someone tasked with helping Hronek adjust to the league.
"I think the hardest thing obviously is figuring out the league," Houda said Saturday in Montreal. "I always go back to Brad McCrimmon, who was a defenseman with the Red Wings for a lot of years. He always said one thing is make a memory bank. Realize who I'm playing against. If I'm playing against Patrik Laine and he beats me, remember the moves that he has. For a young defenseman, it's a learning curve all the way along. It's making sure that you're paying attention to detail. But like I said, he's come a long way. He's an enjoyable kid to be around. He comes, he competes extremely hard every day and he's getting better."
For his part, Hronek, who at this time last season had just been recalled from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, said he wants to improve on "everything."
"Everyone is trying to help me and giving me experience and showing me videos," Hronek said. "I'm trying to work on all the stuff. Just try to get better every single day."
Houda echoed what Blashill said about the way Hronek is able to overcome his errors by working harder.
"I think the one thing for Fil that he brings is work ethic every day that he comes, just paying attention to detail with Fil," Houda said. "The one thing I like is if he makes a mistake on the ice, right the next shift, he goes back out, he pays attention and he fixes it. His compete level is great. We've asked a lot of him. It's about playing against top lines, knowing who you're out against, knowing what you can do and just making sure that you're paying attention to your spot. Like I said, there's a lot of responsibility on the young defensemen and he's been put in some tough situations and he's done a great job. But you still have to keep remembering who you're on the ice with, for and against. Those are just the things you keep reminding him all the time."
Hronek leads the Wings defensemen in scoring with 18 points (7-11-18) but he is far from satisfied.
"I'm playing a lot. I feel good," Hronek said. "But like I said, we're not winning enough games so it's not that much fun."
It's that attitude that endears Hronek to his coaches, the extent to which he hates to lose.
"I think we all like that bite," Houda said. "When he goes in the corner with a guy, he knows it's not going to be easy. He's not an overly huge guy but he comes in there and gives it everything he's got. He competes extremely hard."
Hronek said he surprised himself with his length-of-the-ice empty-net goal against the Winnipeg Jets last Thursday.
"No, I didn't know (it was going in)," Hronek said. "Just close eyes and it went in. Just lucky."
Luck won't have much to do with the success Hronek is having and will have as he is determined to be the best he can possibly be and is willing to work to get there.
"Again, I go back to his compete level. He competes extremely hard," Houda said. "He wants to be on the ice all the time. He's done a great job. He's on the power play, he gets a lot of ice time. It's also he's got to continue to manage the game. There's certain games where he might feel better than other games, there's certain lines you can jump up more than you can against other ones. For him it's still going back to managing the game and for the most part he's done it pretty well. But there's always times where maybe he dives in at the wrong time, so those are just the areas that we're continuing to try to work with him on."
HOWARD'S CONDITIONING STINT: On Tuesday, the Wings announced that goaltender Jimmy Howard, who has missed the last seven games with a mid-body injury, was heading to the Griffins for a conditioning stint.
Howard will play tonight in San Diego against the Gulls.
"He flew last night, he'll play tonight, and then sort it out after that," Blashill said. "If we kept him with GR, he'd have the opportunity to play two games. So again, he's gonna play tonight. We're not holding to either situation. We've certainly discussed both. One, he'd have practices, the other way he'd have games and fly back in time to be in a position to play Sunday. We just felt it's important coming off an injury. For defensemen, you can ease guys into it. For forwards, you can ease guys into it. You don't get eased into it as a goalie. This gives him the opportunity to get down, play a game or two and then be in position to play on the weekend."
The Wings also placed defenseman Jonathan Ericsson on injured reserve and recalled defenseman Brian Lashoff.
Lashoff is expected to be in Detroit for tonight's game, although he did not take part in the team's morning skate.