DETROIT – After many recent and failed attempts to lure a prized free-agent defenseman to come to Detroit, the Wings finally got one to agree to sign on the dotted line.
Western Michigan defenseman Danny DeKeyser agree on a two-year, entry-level deal Friday afternoon to join the Wings.
“We’re going to keep him on our NHL roster for the rest of the season,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said during a phone interview. “We go to an expanded roster after the trade deadline so we think it’s real good. He’ll be available to play, but it’s also an opportunity for him to experience what life is like on an NHL roster on a day-to-day everyday basis.”
DeKeyser will practice with the Wings on Saturday after signing his deal. He however won’t play either Sunday or Monday according to Holland.
“He hasn’t skated for about two weeks,” Holland said. “If Mike Babcock chooses to use him in a game along the way it’s Mike’s decision. Certainly Danny understands we’re fighting for a playoff spot and we’re not holding tryouts. It’s a competition.
“Is he going to play, I don’t know,” Holland continued. “We need wins. We’re not putting people out there in position where they’re quite not prepared for the opportunity. He needs to practice every day. Let’s put him on the ice every day, practice him for four or five days and let Mike Babcock decide if he’s going to play. We think the experience of being in the NHL, practicing every day with the likes of (Henrik) Zetterberg and being with Mike Babcock and somewhere down the road if he goes into the lineup, like we’re hoping, and then from there we’ll see.”
DeKeyser, 23, was one of the NHL’s most sought-after free agents last year before deciding to stay at WMU.
That again was the case this year where DeKeyser’s representatives met with a number of teams over this past week, including Toronto, Anaheim, St. Louis, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Ottawa and Nashville.
And with money not being a factor, since he was limited to a two-year, entry-level contract, the Wings felt good about their chances for many reasons.
First, he’s a Macomb County native.
Second, he attended one of the Wings’ prospects camps in Traverse City.
Third, he was coached for one season at WMU by Jeff Blashill, a former Detroit assistant who is now the head coach of Detroit’s top farm club in Grand Rapids.
Finally, he played youth hockey with Trevor Nill, son of Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill.
“Anytime you can add a young, Grade A prospect to your team, it’s pretty good,” Jim Nill said. “He’s a free agent that could go anywhere and he decided to come to us. If you can add a young defenseman that doesn’t cost you any assets, that’s important.
“I think a lot of it is he’s from here,” Nill added about why he thought DeKeyser chose Detroit. “He grew up here. The Detroit Red Wings have always been his favorite team. To be able to play in front of your family and friends, that’s huge. That’s got a lot to do with it.”
In three seasons at WMU, DeKeyser, who was undrafted, appeared in 118 games and had 12 goals, 37 assists and 107 penalty minutes.
“We’re excited,” Holland said. “He’s 6-foot-3. He’s a great skater, very mobile. At the pro level we see him as a real good defensive solid D-man. He’s gotten better every year in college hockey. He was the CCHA defenseman of the year. He can pass the puck. And like all the younger players he’s got to get stronger.
“We’ve got Xavier Ouellet coming and Ryan Sproul turning pro next year so we’re slowly trying to turn our defense from the Nick Lidstrom era to maybe not superstars, but certainly a lot of defensemen that are really good and solid NHL D-men,” Holland added.
Over the summer the Wings made pitches for a number of prized free agent defenseman including Ryan Suter.
“We’re in the process of developing another corps of D after losing the Rafalskis, Lidstroms and Stuarts so there’s better opportunity here,” Holland said. “He’s a year older. He’s more mature and it’s a great fit. I’m happy we’re able to land him. Giving the relationships that were involved I was really hopeful that he would choose to stay home and play for his hometown team and he has done just that.”