DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings had what no other team courting prized free-agent defenseman Danny DeKeyser had in their back pocket … Nicklas Lidstrom.
The soon-to-be NHL Hall of Famer, gave DeKeyser a call Saturday prior to the Western Michigan defenseman announcing his decision of which team had won the sweepstakes for his services and it seemed to be just what the Wings needed.
“He called me the other day when I was going through the decision process and talked to me for a few minutes,” DeKeyser said after taking part in his first practice with the Wings Saturday at Joe Louis Arena. “Then I got to meet him here today. So it was pretty special. That helped in my decision definitely.
“He just told me about the organization and how special of a place it is to play,” DeKeyser added. “They have a great management team and a locker room full of great guys. He said it would be a fun place to play so I took his word for it.”
Lidstrom said the call seemed to take DeKeyser by surprise.
“Kenny (Holland) handed him the phone and told him it was me,” Lidstrom recalled. “We had a good little chat. I just told him about the positive things I’ve seen and learned over the years here with the team.
“I don’t think he was ready for my call,” Lidstrom continued. “I don’t think he was expecting me to call him. It was more listening to what I had to say. He had a lot of teams that were asking for him and had meetings with a lot of teams so I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision for him. We’re very happy to have him here.”
Lidstrom is in town for a few days before a family vacation to Florida.
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.
DeKeyser wore No. 5 in college, the same number Lidstrom had in Detroit.
He’ll be No. 65 with the Wings.
“I definitely grew up a big Wings fan and to have a chance to play for you hometown team is definitely something special so it’s definitely a good opportunity for me,” said DeKeyser, who grew up in Macomb County and graduated from De La Salle. “I’m going to come in, get my feet wet a little bit, practice here this week and just take it from there.
“It was tough decision,” DeKeyser added. “I could have picked a lot of reasons to go to any of those teams, but ultimately in the end I thought this was the best choice for me. I just looked at what some of the best places would be like to play for and what they had one the blue line and where I would fit in. Here there are quite a few young guys and a good group of veterans. I thought it would be a good fit for me.”
It’s not known when DeKeyser will get his chance to play, but it won’t be Sunday against Chicago.
“I want to be a big part of the team here,” DeKeyser said. “I just have to work hard and that’s all I can do then we’ll see what happens from there. I need to get adjusted to the next level. Guys are a little bit bigger and stronger and quicker so that’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment there for me, but I think and can come in here and be fine.”
In three seasons at WMU, DeKeyser, who was undrafted, appeared in 118 games and had 12 goals, 37 assists and 107 penalty minutes.
“He’s obviously good, good,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “At his level he’s been a dominant player there for the last two years and we’re excited to have him. He hasn’t practiced since Tuesday, so that will take him a little bit. He’ll watch tomorrow. We’ll probably put him in warm-up tomorrow, or whatever, and just go from there.”
DeKeyser skated with Kyle Quincey in practice.
“You see a guy play at one level and he’s a dominant player,” Babcock said. “Now he’s got to be able to turn that from there into being a dominant player at this level. There’s a process there. The other thing about it is we started the year with no depth on D and then suddenly we’ve got all of these guys on D.