Rewind to last June when highly sought after free agent NCAA defenseman Justin Schultz chose to sign with Edmonton over Detroit. At this time many (including yours truly) believed the Red Wings missed out on potentially their best opportunity to land that young pillar on the blueline they were desperately seeking after the departure of Nicklas Lidstrom.
Adding insult to injury was Ryan Suter turning down almost 100 million of Mike Ilitch’s pizza money to join his brofriend Zach Parise in the state of hockey. For a while there many Wings fans had resigned themselves to the fact that Kent Huskins was simply the best we could do.
Fast-forward to almost exactly nine months later when former Western Michigan Bronco standout d-man Danny DeKeyser inks a two-year contract with the Red Wings. Through his 8 games with the team it’s become glaringly evident that Vanessa Williams as usual was spot on when she said: “sometimes they save the best for last.”
Dekeyser has been worth the wait. His late arrival has been instrumental for an anxious Wings team trying to scratch and claw their way to the 8th spot in the Western Conference.
In a year where the Wings’ defense has rotated more than a bunch of carneys in a traveling circus, Dekeyser has cemented himself as a regular in short order. While Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl, Carlo Colaiacovo, and Ian White have all put in their time as members of the healthy scratch crew, the thought of scratching DeKeyser appears to be the furthest thing from Mike Babcock’s mind after watching #65 closely over the last two weeks.
Babcock was again very complimentary of the rookie in his post-game scrum last night: “I thought he was outstanding against Vancouver. He probably wasn’t as good here today, but still a very good player. He’s smart and can skate.” The one thing I would add to Babcock’s assessment of DeKeyser is that for a young player he does a great job of playing within himself. Nothing fancy.
I’ve heard Babs say before that what makes a great player are not the big flashy plays. Instead, it’s the ability to execute the simple play efficiently over and over again. Lidstrom epitomized this principle. Nick had an uncanny ability to always make the right play with remarkable consistency. Whether it meant always getting the puck on net from the point, a tape-to-tape breakout pass, or a slick poke check, you could always count on Lidstrom to make the right play every time.
Now, don’t get me wrong 23-year-old Danny DeKeyser is not Nicklas Lidstrom. But, if you watch him closely you can definitely see a little Lidstrom in the way DeKeyser thinks the game. Yes, it’s not hard to tell that that #65 idolized #5.
Ironically enough an even closer comparison could be made between Dekeyser and Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Like Bouwmeester, DeKeyser is an outstanding skater. They’re both big d-men, yet rely more on sound positioning and less on brazen physicality. Likewise, they also place more emphasis on their performance in the defensive zone.
Sure, our collective Hockeytown pride has taken a beating over the last year when the Wings have been snubbed by every big name. However, those missed investments might turn out to be a blessing in disguise because Danny DeKeyser could quickly become Detroit’s best investment.