Danny DeKeyser relishes old-man role on younger Red Wings defense
Danny DeKeyser was talking about the shift before the Red Wings departed for their quick two-game trip to Southern California.
Even at age 28, and beginning his sixth full season in the NHL, DeKeyser often has been viewed as a “kid” on the Wings’ defense.
But not anymore. Not with all the rookies milling around the defense meetings these days.
“I do (feel old),” DeKeyser said. “I’ve always been the youngest guy on the D-core, and all of a sudden, in a year or two, it’s flipped quick.”
How things have changed with the Red Wings.
All summer the Wings — specifically general manager Ken Holland and coach Jeff Blashill — said there was one job open on the team’s defense.
Then, when defenseman Mike Green contracted a virus and missed all of the preseason, a second opening developed.
So, two of the group of Dennis Cholowski, Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek and Libor Sulak likely would stay with the Wings.
Then, more aches and pains developed. Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall were injured, and were unavailable to begin the season.
Ultimately, all four young defensemen played opening night, as Blashill made Nick Jensen a healthy scratch.
“We realize there’s going to be mistakes,” Blashill said at the time. “Let’s just make sure our positives outweigh our negatives.”
There have been mistakes, no question. But the positives have been impressive and quite a few, raising hopes for the future.
On Monday in Anaheim, the four were expected back in the lineup, along with Jensen, who returned Sunday in Los Angeles and played particularly well. Hicketts was a healthy scratch.
But the Wings were without veteran Trevor Daley (upper body) in Anaheim, who was injured against the Kings.
So what will the Wings’ defensive lineup look like against the Ducks?
You will have Cholowski, Hronek and Sulak, all playing in their third NHL game. Hicketts will be in his seventh NHL game. Jensen is starting his second full NHL season, and then you have the elder statesman, DeKeyser.
DeKeyser says it's been since college when he's felt like the seasoned veteran on defense.
“I was always the youngest defenseman here, for the last four or five years," he said. “It is weird how it’s changed.”
Just look at the ice time Sunday in Los Angeles.
Cholowski, who earned an NHL job days before the others to begin the season and has been the most impressive of the young defensmen, led all Wings in ice time with 24 minutes, 50 seconds.
Cholowski also had two assists — on both Wings’ power-play goals — although he was also minus-2 in plus-minus.
With Daley unavailable after the first period, minutes were piled on young players such as Cholowski, Sulak (22:17) and Jensen (22:51), as Hronek earned a 10-minute misconduct penalty in the third period, leaving the Wings only four defensemen (Hronek played 15:23).
How long these young defensemen continue to stay and learn in the NHL is an open question.
Daley, Ericsson and Kronwall all are being viewed as day-to-day, but is there no clear-cut return date. Green could be back in two to four weeks, given previous estimates.
Who stays in Detroit, at that point, and who returns to Grand Rapids, will be an intriguing talking point.
By then, DeKeyser will have learned more about some of his young teammates.
“I haven’t learned a ton about them yet, but I’m sure as the season goes on I will,” DeKeyser said. “There are little things, here and there, they like to do — young kids stuff they like to do that I don’t always relate to.”
Compared to the season opener, the Wings (0-1-1) played better in many different areas Sunday in Los Angeles, but still lost 4-2.
Goalie Jack Campbell (Port Huron) made 36 saves in an emergency start and carried the Kings to victory.
“Jack Campbell played well, so good for him, unfortunate for us,” Blashill told reporters. “We could’ve scored on a few more of our chances. We had opportunities to score that we didn’t.”
Andreas Athanasiou had a breakaway late in the second period, with the game tied 1-1, but fumbled the puck into the corner.
Several other quality chances were turned aside by Campbell.
Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin scored the Wings’ goals, both on the power play.
Jonathan Bernier made 21 saves in his Wings’ debut.
Still, Blashill liked the improvement from the first to second game.
“All we can do is focus on making sure that we’re getting beter here,” Blashill said. “Again, there was a lot of things we did good. We’ve got to make sure we repeat a lot of that performance and find a way to score a bit more.”