DeKeyser did not dress for an NHL game for nearly 15 months while the 31-year-old, nine-year veteran rehabilitated from back surgery.
When he finally returned to the lineup this season, DeKeyser seemed to be a step slow, hesitant to make a play or go hard into the corners.
Red Wings Defenseman Recovers
Near the midway point of the season, however, DeKeyser appeared to gain much of that missing step back and his assertiveness returned.
As a result, DeKeyser was named the Red Wings’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, an honor the NHL awards to a player who displays the most “perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication” to the sport.
DeKeyser was selected to represent the Red Wings in a vote by the Detroit chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
The NHL will announce the winner in July.
Here is a brief history of the award:
The Red Wings have had two Masterton winners, Steve Yzerman in 2003 and Brad Park in 1984.
DeKeyser was limited to just eight appearances at the start of the 2019-20 season before being shut down in favor of back surgery.
“It’s not an easy surgery to go through,” DeKeyser said told MLive.com. “The downtime after that is extended. It’s tough to even get around the house after a surgery like that.”
When the 2020-21 season was delayed because of the pandemic, DeKeyser appeared healthy enough to contribute, but after six tentative performances, he was pointless with a minus-3 rating.
Coach Jeff Blashill had him sit in the press box from Feb. 3-19. During that time DeKeyser was waived but soon rejoined the organization after no other NHL team claimed his rights.
‘I Definitely Felt A Lot Better’
“Coming out of training camp I was definitely struggling a bit,” DeKeyser said. “They sat me down and told me to work on some stuff and try to get back healthy again, it had been so long since I played.
“Second half of the season I definitely felt a lot better, though I was moving better and felt stronger out there. One of my goals coming into the year was, first of all, to play, and to just get better as the weeks and months went on, and I think that’s what I did.”
Upon his return to health and the ice, DeKeyser, who has one year remaining on his contract, helped stabilize the defensive corps.
In 47 games, he complied four goals among 12 points and capped the campaign with goals in the final two games. His plus-3 rating was tied for the team lead.
“That (finish) was pretty positive going into a full offseason where I can be healthy and train,” DeKeyser said. “Last year I was still on rehab and I couldn’t get to the point where I wanted to be to play at this level. That’ll be important for me this summer.”