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Red Wings' Danny DeKeyser says he's fortunate to be healthy, playing hockey again

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit –  In a way it was like the first day of school, and getting the same jittery feeling the night before.

Danny DeKeyser, who missed nearly all last season, was filled with anticipation all Thursday night.

“Up at 5:30 in the morning,” said DeKeyser Friday after the Red Wings’ first official practice of training camp. “I couldn’t sleep. I was excited to come to the locker room.

“I had jitters a little bit but it was a good thing.”

Danny DeKeyser skates at Red Wings camp on Friday at Little Caesars Arena.

DeKeyser only played eight games last season before going down with a herniated disc.

DeKeyser hasn’t played an actual game since October 2019, well over a calendar year. Except for coming in for rehab at Little Caesars Arena and watching games from the locker room, he's been away from the typical NHL everyday environment, due to the injury and the pandemic.

That’s a big reason Friday’s practice felt so good. DeKeyser was appreciative of what was around him.

“Going into this year, my outlook has changed a little bit,” DeKeyser said. “I’ll be 31 in March and I’m not a young kid anymore. It’s harder to play in this league for older guys. Thirty-five seems like the new 42. Back in the day, in the '90s, they played until they were in their early 40s. (But) today’s game is just so fast and sometimes your body just breaks down.

“I have a different outlook this year.  A little bit more jump in my step. A lot of the guys, I’m sure, feel the same way being out for 10 months. For me in particular, I feel lucky to be out here.”

More: Red Wings' Anthony Mantha ready to get physical during this sprint of a season

DeKeyser was working with Filip Hronek as a defensive partner during most drills and even worked with the top power-play unit.

The most important thing, for DeKeyser and for the Wings, was that DeKeyser felt healthy and more than able to return to the lineup for the Jan. 14 start of the schedule.

“I felt great, just great to be back out there and be able to play again,” said DeKeyser, who reached out to former teammate Kyle Quincey for advice on his back surgery, Quincey having had a similar procedure. “It was a good, uptempo practice. It felt like forever (not playing). It was good be out there and zip the puck around.

“It was fun.”

Given the speed of today’s NHL, that will be DeKeyser’s toughest adjustment going forward.

“I just have to get back to the speed ... the game is real fast and me having been out as long as I have, I have to get back to that pace,” DeKeyser said. “It’s been a long time.

“When I’m in there I feel I can help the team. Last year didn’t go the way I wanted, pretty much being out all year. I just have to try to stay fresh and healthy and take care of the body, with all the games we’re going to play again.”

Coach Jeff Blashill likes the idea of DeKeyser being reunited with Hronek.

“We don’t have anything set in stone with our (defense) pairs but when DK and Fil have played together, they’ve had some chemistry and done a good job together,” Blashill said. “They’re two of our best defensemen and I would expect them to get a good amount of minutes as we get into the season.

"As we start the year, I’m going to be cautious with Danny’s minutes, ease him in a little bit.”

DeKeyser’s health and availability will be important ingredients for any Wings’ success.

“He’s been one of our top (defensemen) over the last number of years,” Blashill said. “He can eat minutes, play against the other team’s best players, break you out of your zone so you have the puck way more and you don’t have to defend nearly as much. He can add offense by jumping in the play on the rush.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter @tkulfan