DETROIT – The biggest question mark heading into this season for the Detroit Red Wings was their depth along the blue line.
After the loss of Nicklaus Lidstrom (retirement) and Brad Stuart (trade), coupled with their inability to sign a top notch defenseman this offseason and the injuries they faced at the start, the Wings patched things together to where now the blue line is one of their strengths.
“We’ve really improved drastically in that area, probably the most improved part of our team,” said Wings coach Mike Babcock, whose squad faces Anaheim in the first round of the playoff Tuesday night. “With (Jimmy Howard) playing the way he is and the D able to get the puck going, we’re spending a lot less time in our zone. That allows you to be much better up front.”
And everything seemed to come together on the blue line when Detroit was able to land Danny DeKeyser.
“He really has done a good job for us,” Babcock said. “We liked him all along when we were recruiting him. We had no idea that when he came to the National Hockey League he’d be able to do the things he’s done for us. Basically, it’s allowed us to move the puck better, to get back and get pucks. If you improve your D zone play, it improves your offense and makes you a much quicker team. Obviously, we had deep growth amongst the group we had already and we added him, it made us all that much better.”
The Wings beat out a number of teams to get the services of the prized free agent defenseman out of Western Michigan.
“I’m really impressed,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “I didn’t know much about him before he arrived. Coming from college hockey to playing at this level and the way he’s been playing is impressive and we’re happy for him and hopefully it’ll continue.”
DeKeyser, a De La Salle graduate, made his NHL appearance on April 5 in Colorado and has not left the lineup while others, Ian White, Brendan Smith, Kyle Quincey, Carlo Colaiacovo and Brian Lashoff, have been a healthy scratch a time or two during that stretch.
“I think we’ve done a real good job to rebuild our D on the fly here,” Babcock said. “We’ve had great growth on the back end. Getting DeKeyser to come has made a huge difference to our team. If we don’t’ get (him) we don’t make the playoffs.”
DeKeyser, who is still waiting on his first NHL goal, had one assist, 15 shots on goal and was a plus-4 over those 11 games.
“He’s been solid,” Smith said. “It’s been quite impressive actually coming right out of college and stepping in and playing a lot of minutes. We’re really impressed with him and happy that he can help our team as much as he has. We’ve needed that speed on the back end and he’s got a lot of speed and a great reach and a great first pass. He’s been really good for us.”
DeKeyser is averaging about 18 minutes of ice time.
“It seems like he’s been around for a while the way he’s been playing,” Smith said. “I’m impressed. I think a lot of people are impressed. I know the coaches are. We all knew he was a good player. Anytime you grab a player who’s so highly touted who was undrafted and there are 20-plus teams going after him, like Justin Schultz was last year, you see there’s a lot of talent, but you don’t know how he’s going to defend when he gets a chance to play. Obviously, he’s done it. He’s been awesome. Hopefully he can keep it up because we need him more than ever now.”