Danny Dekeyser came out of Western Michigan University last season, and found himself surrounded by multiple suitors waiting for him. Dekeyser decided to play in his own back yard and sign with the Detroit Red Wings.
It was obvious even in the first game in a Detroit sweater, that Dekeyser had an extraordinarily gifted sense of how to play defensive hockey. With the loss of so much skill on the back end from 2010-2011 to the 2011-2012 season, Detroit was forced to play a lot of youth on the blue line last season.
Dekeyser stepped in with 11 games remaining in the season. He filled a huge hole in the Detroit defense, and took a team that was fighting to keep up with the Western Conference, and helped drive them into the 7th seed. In the final 11 games of the season while Dekeyser was in the line up, the Red Wings put up a record of 6-2-3, including winning the final four games of the season to write their names in stone in the playoffs.
Dekeyser’s skating ability is that of a forward, and has unbelievable senses with the puck. Turnovers in the defensive end killed the Wings for most of the season, and seeing a young 23 year old who had just made his way into the NHL move the puck from his own zone into the neutral zone tape-to-tape without the slightest hesitation brought back memories of the days when Detroit could rely so heavily on one of the league’s greatest defenseman, Nicklas Lidstrom.
The time Dekeyser spent in the playoffs last season was short lived because of a broken finger, but his skill level was enough to set of a good majority of Ducks players, including Teemu Selanne. Dekeyser was matched on Selanne for the first two games before he was forced out for a couple of weeks due to his finger.
Dekeyser’s play last season earned him an invitation to the U.S. Olympic tryout. Judging by the names that were also invited, I’d say he has a pretty good chance of making the team if he can continue to play at the level he did last season.
The offensive ability hasn’t shown through just yet, but Dekeyser has the ability to put numbers on the board. In 11 games last season, Dekeyser grabbed only one assist, but had a +4 rating. He’ll be entering this season still considered a rookie, and will anchor the back end of the blue line for the Red Wings, with fellow youngsters, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith.
The Wings will rely heavily on the youth once again, but with the experience the all gained last season, hopefully they will have all excelled in the offseason, and gained enough skill to be able to keep up. Kindl’s play especially was better every night last season. With the shortened season under their belts, and a good amount of playoff experience, the Wings will be crossing their fingers that the defense will be able to keep up in the skilled Atlantic Division in the “new” Eastern Conference.