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Svechnikov, Saarijarvi and DeKeyser enjoy their day with Wings campers

The three players are kicking things into gear for the upcoming season

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - Vili Saarijarvi, Evgeny Svechnikov and Danny DeKeyser are all at different points in their careers but each one relishes the opportunity to spend time with kids.

The three players joined the Detroit Red Wings youth camp as assistant instructors for the camp's second day at Joe Louis Arena.

"Special for kids and for us also," Svechnikov said. "It's awesome to see the kids laughing and happy to see how we do what we do. Hopefully they're going to look up for us and (follow) in our steps forward. To be around Joe Louis Arena, it's awesome, looking for everything."

Svechnikov and Saarijarvi are both 20, not too far removed from the campers, who are ages 6-14.

"I love playing with the kids," Saarijarvi said. "It's so much fun. I had the same thing back home in Finland for a couple days. It was good, it was fun to go on the ice and play a little bit with them. It was a good time."

DeKeyser, 27, is a Detroit native who has not only helped out at the Wings' youth camp before, he's been busy the last couple of weeks in the metro area.

"It's fun. Last couple weeks have been good," DeKeyser said. "Worked with the Salvation Army a little bit, Larkin's camp there last week as well, now today this. It's been a good couple weeks and it's fun to work with the kids and get out when I can."

Each player offers a few words of wisdom to the campers.

"Get out there, have fun and work hard and hope the pieces fall into place after that," DeKeyser said. "If you're out there and you're miserable, it's probably not going to go your way, so I just tell them to have fun."

Saarijarvi agreed with the fun part but added, "Just when they go home, do stuff at home, too, and not only here at the rink. When they go home, go shoot pucks and play with other friends, play other sports. I think that helped me a lot, playing different sports when I was younger."

Svechnikov kept his message short and sweet.

"Never give up," he said. "Give it all you have."

Last year Svechnikov was a rookie with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins and got to be a part of a Calder Cup-winning team.

"I learned a lot, honestly," Svechnikov said. "You've got to have a really close team to win a championship and have everything done and set up for a championship to win it. I think we had everything to win it. I think first of all we did an unbelievable effort as a team, done a great job. For myself, I think I learned a lot and I think I'm going to bring it into my future with the championship for sure."

Saarijarvi spent last season with the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads but joined the Griffins at the end of the season and was one of their Black Aces.

"I think it was great just to see how those older guys and those pro guys, how they do things when they're playing big games like that," Saarijarvi said. "Just to be around the guys and in the locker room and practicing with them, I think it was a pretty cool experience and I tried to take as much as possible with me and hopefully it's going to help me in the future and next year going there."

DeKeyser joined Dylan Larkin and Jimmy Howard on Team USA in the men's world championships in Cologne, Germany after the season and has been busy attending weddings and training since then.

"I've just been working out in the mornings and starting to pick up my skating a little bit, more days on the ice throughout the last couple of weeks and kind of ramping up for the next couple of weeks," DeKeyser said. "Just been doing that and getting out and golfing a little bit, enjoying myself and making the most out of the summer."

Svechnikov has had a short summer so he hasn't been able to work out as much with his younger brother, Andrei, but he did give the draft-eligible 17-year-old some advice.

"He work really hard right now this summer," Svechnikov said. "He wants to have a really good season, hard season. I'm telling him just work really hard and be himself because he's a really good player and he's done everything. He have a good mindset and I just tell him work hard."

Svechnikov returned home to Russia and Saarijarvi to Finland for a month but both have been working out in the area.

"Last summer was my first summer I trained pretty much the whole summer here," Saarijarvi said. "I think it was pretty good for me. So I thought it's going to be best for me to stay here this summer, too, and get better. It's easier here. You train with a big group of guys, older guys, and at home I'm going to train by myself so it's huge difference and it's been good so far."

Saarijarvi is expected to play for the Griffins this season.

While that's most likely where Svechnikov will end up as well, he is not ruling out staying in Detroit.

"I think everybody have a chance," Svechnikov said. "Every single one at the camp will have a chance. Just take it all in and do your best."

Last April, Svechnikov played in back-to-back games at home against Ottawa and then in Ottawa, getting his first taste of the NHL.

"I feel a lot more confidence, a lot more comfortable," Svechnikov said. "It's going to be my third camp and it's exciting. You know everybody, all the staff, all the coaches, and you know what the coaches want from you. I got to improve every practice there."

Every player has things to work on during the summer and these guys are no different.

"Just try to work on my speed game and be a little bit more balanced and strong on the ice," Svechnikov said. "Quickness stuff and basically overall just everything."

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Svechnikov is already pretty big and strong, whereas Saarijarvi is not quite as much, listed at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds with the Steelheads last year.

"Getting stronger," Saarijarvi said of his summer focus. "I think that's something that I had to and what I want to work on. It's been good so far and I've been getting stronger, too, put on a couple pounds. There's still time left so it's good."

Meanwhile, DeKeyser is looking ahead to the Wings' season and trying to have a much better year than they had.

"Obviously our power play needs to be better this year," DeKeyser said. "It was good towards the end of the year and I think if we had that throughout the first three, four months of the season, we would have been right in maybe a playoff position. Then I think we can get a little bit better in our D zone, too. So those are two big things. That should add some goals for us power-play wise and then for cleaning up the D zone a bit, that should subtract some goals against."

DeKeyser is excited about the addition of defenseman Trevor Daley.

"I think it's great," DeKeyser said. "I've watched him play for a few years now and obviously he's a veteran, he's been in the league for a long time. He's an unbelievable skater so he moves the puck well, gets up into the play and creates a lot of offense in that aspect of the game. I think he should help us a lot."

The team also added defenseman/sometime forward Luke Witkowski, someone that DeKeyser already knows very well from their time together at Western Michigan.

"We were roommates, he stood up in my wedding, too," DeKeyser said. "He's a big boy. He doesn't shy away from any of the rough stuff, that's for sure. He's always protecting his teammates and that kind of thing. That's definitely an aspect that we could use here for sure and I think it'll help us."

The three also enjoyed their last opportunity to skate at Joe Louis Arena.

"I didn't know if I was going to get back here or not," DeKeyser said. "It's kind of weird. Excited to see the new place. I haven't been in there for a while, I hear it's coming along so that'll be nice."

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