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Red Wings will lean on Danny DeKeyser in young defense group

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Danny DeKeyser

Detroit – Danny DeKeyser liked the ending. His play the final few months of the regular season was more the way DeKeyser felt he can play.

But the start, well, that left a bad taste. The poor start gnawed at him.

DeKeyser suffered a fractured ankle the third game of the regular season in Dallas. The injury forced DeKeyser out of the lineup for six weeks, and upon his return, he struggled badly, including a minus-11 rating in his first 10 games.

Not being able to play or skate, DeKeyser’s timing and conditioning were affected.

“I got hurt the third game of the season,” DeKeyser said recently. “You get ready all summer and, boom, you play two games and you’re hurt for over a month.

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“That was kind of tough. Part of it was timing, but part of it was I just have to be better.”

As the season wore on, DeKeyser found his stride.

With the coaching staff wanting to get their defensemen involved offensively, DeKeyser became more aggressive and increasingly joined rushes.

DeKeyser also settled down defensively, and getting healthier, his skating and mobility improved.

Finishing with 65 games played, DeKeyser had six goals and six assists, with a plus-2 rating – one of only four Wings to finish on the plus side.

“The ankle set me back a little bit,” DeKeyser said.  “Even after (returning), I didn’t think I was playing some of my best hockey. I thought it would be better but it took more time to get playing where I wanted to be.

“December wasn’t great a month for me. I started to play better in January – but I want to be ready from game one.”

Coach Jeff Blashill said DeKeyser was “excellent” in the second half of the schedule.

“It was a slow start for him,” Blashill said. “The injury was tough, and then you jump in midstream. That’s harder than people realize, especially with the responsibility that we put on Danny.”

The responsibility isn’t likely to diminish in the near future.

DeKeyser, 28, has four more years left on his contract, with a cap hit of $5 million per season.

With the Wings expected to get even younger next season – particularly on defense, with prospects Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek and Dennis Cholowski not far away, and one or two openings likely – DeKeyser’s veteran presence becomes increasingly vital.

Despite missing the playoffs the past two seasons, DeKesyer believes the Wings aren’t far from the playoffs.

“In today’s game there’s not a whole lot difference,” said DeKeyser, of playoff and non-playoff teams. “If you swing some of those one-goal games and score a few extra goals here or there, get your special teams working a little bit better, it can make a big difference.”

DeKeyser understands the need for a rebuild, and an influx of young players on the roster.

“We missed the playoffs the last two years, you have to look at it like that,” DeKeyser said. “You have to do something, mix things up a bit.

“It’s not fun for sure when you have to watch other teams play for a Stanley Cup. Our goal is to try to get back there next year and try to give ourselves a chance to get back into the playoffs.”

Twitter @tkulfan