Detroit — In the third game of the season, Danny DeKeyser caught a bad break.
He has not played since.
When he re-enters the lineup Sunday, against the Avalanche, if he plays better than last season, the puck-moving DeKeyser could be a significant addition to a defensive corps that is more solid than last season, when the Red Wings essentially counted on him as the top shutdown defenseman.
It turns out a break is exactly what happened when he stopped a shot with his skate against the Stars on Oct. 10.
At first, the traditional and intentionally nondescript “lower body” became sprain. Then, sprain became a worse sprain than thought.
After a second look, the crack became apparent.
“I think it’s been 16, 17 games, something like that. So, I’m excited to get back in there,” DeKeyser said.
“Foot’s been feeling really good. I got some good skates in, this week, so I’m just ready to get out there, tomorrow.
“It was an ankle injury that kind of, at first, looked like more like a sprain. But the more it went on, they took a second look at it and there was a small fracture in there.”
When DeKeyser tried to “give it a go” a few weeks ago, he said he found the discomfort simply too intense to persist through some drills.
“It didn’t feel great in the boot. We just kind of shut it down for a couple of weeks and let it heal up.”
The ankle simply took a while to heal.
DeKeyser said his mobility is fine.
The nondrafted product of the local Compuware AAA program in youth hockey, DeKeyser played junior hockey in Canada and the United States before attending Western Michigan.
Undrafted, several NHL teams nonetheless hoped to sign him, and he chose the Red Wings in 2013.
He skates and passes well, can be sound positionally and occasionally wields his stick like a rapier to pluck pucks from opponents.
But DeKeyser regressed last season.
The Red Wings handed him a task most difficult. Amid their self-proclaimed rebuild on the fly, and with Niklas Kronwall’s knees reducing his effectiveness, the Wings essentially relied on DeKeyser to be their top defenseman.
He may never be a No. 1 in the NHL, and DeKeyser did not play as well as he had in his previous three seasons.
Now, with Trevor Daley logging long minutes and defending so well he is little noticed, Kronwall more effective than last season as he adapts to his more limited mobility, and Mike Green generating significant offense from the back end, DeKeyser’s circumstances have improved.
He should no longer feel the need to do quite so much, let alone just about everything.
“I think we have even more depth this year than we did last year, and the guys have been playing really well, back there,” said DeKeyser, 27, who is signed at $5 million per season through 2022.
“They’ve been not giving up a ton of chances. If we can just keep that up and keep scoring goal it’ll be good.”
Jeff Blashill seeks improvement with DeKeyser in the lineup, but not necessarily immediate impact.
“Well, I think having DeKeyser back, in time, will help,” Blashill said. “And I say in time because there’s going to be an adjustment period. He hasn’t played in a long time.
“It’ll take a little bit for him to get back up to speed.”
But DeKeyser is expected to eventually help the Red Wings move the puck and improve positional play and the structure of the defense immediately in front of the goalies; both of whom are playing well.
“It just helps us, period,” Blashill said. “He is one of our better defensemen, and we’ve been missing one of our better defenseman.
“So, it’ll help us in the long run.”
As for how much better the defense can be with him, and how much better it can be than last year at its full complement plus Daley, Blashill had been anticipating the results since the start of the season and only got to see it for three games.
“I talked about that going into the year.” the coach said. “I just think that the more good players you have, the more guys that can eat up the top four minutes, the more you can disperse those minutes on any given night, it lightens the load on everybody.”
Blashill said the top defensemen are judged by how they play against opponents’ best players.
“When they make a mistake it’s glaring because the best players tend to make big time plays against you.
“It’s impossible to be at 100 percent every night. You’re going to have a bad night. And if you’re having a bad night, it’s sure nice to have other guys who can pick up that load and have the ability to do it, and who have done that throughout their career.
“Daley’s one of those guys.”