DETROIT – There are few sounds as sweet as netting your first NHL goal.
“It was pretty special for me,” Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser said. “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 NHL goal on Nov. 4 in Detroit’s 4-2 loss 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, who found DeKeyser for a slapshot midway through the second period.
It’s a memory the 24-year-old won’t forget 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 proceeded to do 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 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 develop since making his NHL debut on April 5, 2013. The defenseman recorded one assist through 11 games at the end of the 2012-13 season before permanently earning a spot on the Wings’ roster six months later.
DeKeyser consistently played top-four minutes throughout the 2013-14 season, finishing with
4 goals and 19 assists and a plus-minus of 10 through 65 regular season games to help the Wings extend their playoff streak to 23 years.
Although the Detroit native may not have been on the scorer’s sheet every night, defensemen know all too well that it’s not always about the plays you make, but the mistakes you avoid. DeKeyser followed that principle like a professional far beyond his 24 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.”
Scoring has never been one of DeKeyser’s priorities, though. The defenseman only scored eight goals in the BCHL, one in the USHL and 12 in his three years at WMU, recording a total of 21 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 way DeKeyser played this past season, his first goal will be far from his last. But not every goal will have such a special place in his heart, or on his wall, as the first.
“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 his NHL journey has just recently begun.