On the February 27th trade deadline, the Red Wings shipped Mike Commodore to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Many of us assumed that there was another deal in the works and that the Red Wings were ridding themselves of a contract. They were, at the time, at the limit 50 contracts (also the reason that Sebastien Piche was traded in addition to the first round pick to acquire Kyle Quincey). With Commodore out of the picture, the Wings were down to 49 contracts (Petr Mrazek’s contract is a slide-rule, meaning it won’t take effect until he turns pro next year).
The Wings must have had a defenseman on their radar, right? And, no, I don’t mean Brendan Smith, although he’s adjusting quite well.
I thought for sure there was another deal on the horizon — perhaps one that would have prevented everyone from jumping on Kenny Tick Tock’s neck since it’s all his fault he didn’t make several trade deadline deals and then watch as his blueline dwindled. There was no additional deal, and the team saw itself sitting with 49 contracts… and a few days later, sitting with three injured defensemen.
Here’s a name you should familiarize yourself with: Danny DeKeyser. Currently a sophomore on the surprisingly talented Western Michigan hockey team, DeKeyser has become one of the — if not the — most coveted free agents playing collegiate hockey. Having gone undrafted, he’s very quickly blossomed into one of the top defensemen in the country, and certainly one of the better ones without an NHL team’s affiliation already attached to him.
When a player plays collegiate hockey and is drafted, the team that drafted them has until their eligibility runs out (or they leave school) to sign that player instead of the customary two years. When a player is not drafted and is playing college hockey, that player may choose when he signs an NHL deal. But once he does, his college days are over and he must turn pro.
According to Bob McKenzie (hat tip to The Hockey Writers for an excellent write-up and linking to the video), should the 6-4, 185 pound blueliner decide he’d like to forgo his two remaining years of eligibility and turn pro, he’d likely receive 30 NHL offers — one from every team in the league. Since entry-level deals are capped, the Rangers or Maple Leafs can’t swoop in and offer him more than the Coyotes or Islanders. What the teams have to offer is playing time and a promise that he won’t have to spend time in their AHL affiliates.
The Red Wings won’t be making such promises (it was what derailed any Fabian Brunnstrom deal a few years back… and we all know how well that turned out for him). But, the Wings may still be the front-runner to acquire Danny DeKeyser’s services. And here’s why:
- DeKeyser’s former coach at Western is one of the new Red Wings assistants. In fact, he seemed downright bummed that Jim Blashill was departing the program.
- He’s from the Metro Detroit area, growing up just on the Michigan side of the Canadian border. Like current Red Wing Justin Abdelkader, DeKeyser has the opportunity to do something very special and play (nearly) his entire hockey career in his home state. Youth –> short stint in the USHL –> Western –> Grand Rapids –> Detroit.
- He’s former teammates with Trevor Nill, currently a center at Michigan State University and St. Louis Blues draft pick. Perhaps you’re more familiar with Trevor’s father Jim Nill, who is the assistant GM of the Wings.
- Speaking of Nill, he paid DeKeyser a little visit a few weeks ago. With him was Ken Holland, Ryan Martin, Jiri Fischer, Chris Chelios, and Kris Draper. In other words, the entire Red Wings player development braintrust.
- If DeKeyser’s name is a bit familiar and you can’t place why — it’s because he was an invitee of Red Wings Prospect camp this past summer, wearing #64
None of this information is new. In fact, tons of sites have been talking about the likelihood that DeKeyser could end up a Red Wing in short order. But it’s worth throwing on your radar once more now that the collegiate season is winding down. WMU is ranked 14th in the nation and will be playing in the CCHA tournament at Joe Louis this upcoming week. The playoffs will last into the first week of April, if Western is lucky enough to still be playing. Dan DeKeyser may have his new home by then if the Broncos are eliminated.
If the Wings (or any other team, really) do sign DeKeyser, he can be assigned to the Griffins right away — or even join the Red Wings much like Abdelkader did for two games at the end of 2007-08. With the blueline injury troubles the Wings are experiences at the moment, DeKeyser may get his shot pretty quickly for his hometown team.
I wonder how many fans would credit Holland for having the foresight to rid himself of a contract before college hockey’s bluest chip became available. Or if that’s what he was aiming for. The man’s a genius after all.
Having a player like DeKeyser will help off-set the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom, whenever that will be. Not to mention, DeKeyser is likely a better prospect than most of the defensemen available in this year’s draft. Suddenly, losing that first round pick doesn’t matter so much if we land a guy like him. Someone who — if he were eligible — may go in the top five in exchange for our pick that would have been in the late 20’s? Sold.
It’s good to be a Red Wings fan. We all know it. Danny DeKeyser knows it. We’re where you want to be, Dan. We’ll see you soon.