Jakub Vrana nears return to Red Wings lineup; Danny DeKeyser waived
Detroit — Jakub Vrana is nearing a return to the Red Wings' lineup, which necessitates a corresponding move.
On Monday afternoon, the Wings made it, placing defenseman Danny DeKeyser on waivers — on his birthday no less.
DeKeyser, 32, cleared waivers multiple times last season. DeKeyser is in the final two months of a six-year contract worth $30 million ($5 million salary cap hit), and is unlikely to be re-signed by the Wings next season.
If DeKeyser is not picked up by another team by 2 p.m Tuesday, which is expected, it's unclear what DeKeyser's role will be the remainder of this season. DeKeyser could be sent down to minor league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins until possible roster spots are created around the March 21 trade deadline.
The Wings on Sunday claimed defenseman Olli Juolevi and are expected to take a good look at the former 2016 first-round draft pick in the final weeks of the regular season.
DeKeyser has six points, all assists, in 43 games this season, with a minus-12 rating. DeKeyser has struggled to regain full strength since having back surgery early in the 2019-20 season.
Vrana practiced full bore Monday on a line with Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri. Vrana had shoulder surgery early in training camp, and has yet to play a game this season. Tyler Bertuzzi, who had been on Suter's line, was reunited with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond.
“He seems to be doing well,” coach Jeff Blashill said after Monday's practice. “It’s one of those things that you handle well until you don’t. As much as we want to replicate it and get him prepared for it, it won’t be the same as a game. Ultimately, when the time is he’s cleared, that’s the surgeon’s decision and the surgeon at that point would feel comfortable that he can take those hits and you just never know for sure.”
The way Vrana went about practice, and the fact he's been increasing his workload regularly, would seem indicate Vrana is extremely close to returning.
Still, Blashill wouldn't commit to Vrana's definitive return.
“I’ll know more (Tuesday)," Blashill said. "Right now, no definitive answer with him. We’re just moving around different spots in the lineup. I really don’t know who’s going to play yet and who’s not or what the lines are going to look like. We looked at some different stuff (Monday). I'm not sure that's the way we'll go at all. Part of that is the availability of Jakub is not yet determined.”
Blashill doesn't want to immediately put too much on Vrana's shoulders.
“There’s a lot of different things to look at, (like) who you’re going to match the other team against,” Blashill said. “If I decide to use Larkin in a match-line against, let’s say, the (Nick) Schmaltz and (Clayton) Keller line (on Arizona), I don’t know that I want to put Jakub in that spot right off the bat, where he’s got to be so responsible defensively that he’s going against the other team’s best.
"That doesn’t mean he won’t play against good players, but I’m not sure that’s the best thing for him yet. He hasn’t had tons of reps, so if he does play that would be something we would consider. I’m not sure I loved the lines looked today, so we’re going to go back, watch practice and make a decision.”
If DeKeyser clears waivers, that opens a roster spot to activate Vrana in time for Tuesday's game against Arizona.
Juolevi went through his first practice Monday with the Wings, but Blashill was unclear when Juolevi might enter the lineup.
"At some point we want to give him an opportunity but when that is, I don't know yet," Blashill said. "I want to see him practice. If you put a guy into a game too early when he's not comfortable with any systems, that's a lot to ask sometimes."
Juolevi has been limited to 10 games in Florida this season, after being acquired from Vancouver early in the season. A groin injury put Juolevi behind, and he didn't play his first game until December.
Only 23, but playing for his third NHL organization, the former fifth overall pick by the Canucks in 2016 is optimistic about joining the Wings.
"It's great, a pretty legendary organization here, a lot of young guys coming up and the team is coming up, too," said Juolevi, who added he is completely healthy and ready to play. "It's an exciting opportunity. This team is an up and coming team. Detroit has played real well this year and they are a strong team."
Juolevi felt something could happen soon with the trade deadline nearing, and the fact he wasn't playing much with the Panthers.
"A team like Florida, they're going for a Cup this year," Juolevi said. "I hadn't played much, and there were some injuries. I'm a young guy and I want to play hockey. I'm excited to be here and I want to show what I've got."
Blashill admitted he hasn't seen Juolevi play much in the NHL, but knows enough to see the mobile defenseman as a puck mover, and someone who could help the Wings in that area.
"If he's a guy who can defend well and move the puck out of our own end, and move it through the neutral zone, then he'll help us," Blashill said. "We're trying to win games for sure every night, but we also understand as an organization we're trying to let our young guys grow. When you're considered a Cup contender like Florida is, or a team that had a lot of pressure to make the playoffs like Vancouver did, sometimes you don't allow some to live through some of those mistakes and we certainly have done that with a number of of our young players.
"It could be a good spot for him, but we'll see."
The Wings placed forward Carter Rowney (lower body) on injured reserve, but it doesn't sound like Rowney will be out long.
Rowney was hit in the foot by a Victor Hedman slap shot Friday in Tampa.
Rowney has to miss at least two games, and Blashill said there was a chance Rowney could possibly be ready to play this weekend in Calgary as the Wings begin a four-game road trip.
Coyotes at Red Wings
► Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: ESPN+/Hulu/97.1
► Outlook: The Coyotes (16-35-4) have won three of their last four games and are showing progress as the season continues. ... RW Clayton Keller (23 goals, 51 points) has been nearly a point-per-game player, while C Nick Schmaltz on Saturday had a seven-point game (two goals, five assists).