By Michael Caples –
DETROIT – Dan DeKeyser has to wear a new number.
For the majority of his life, the Clay Township native has worn the No. 5.
But with his new team, that number isn’t exactly available.
DeKeyser, a lifelong Red Wings fan, announced yesterday that he would forego his senior season at Western Michigan to sign with Detroit. Like most aspiring defensemen out of the state of Michigan, he looked up to Nicklas Lidstrom. The Red Wings legendary defenseman will soon see his No. 5 jersey hang in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena, which means that DeKeyser went with No. 65, a number that still “had a five in it.”
“It’ll be an adjustment, but what can you do,” DeKeyser said with a smile after his first practice as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.
As it turns out, Lidstrom actually played a role in the Wings’ recruitment of DeKeyser, a free-agent defenseman after going undrafted that fielded offers from almost every NHL club.
“He actually called me the other day when I was going through the decision process,” DeKeyser said of his childhood idol. “He talked to me for a few minutes, and that kind of thing, and then I got to meet him here today, so, it was pretty special.
“He just told me a little bit about the organization, how special of a place it is to play, they’ve got a great management team here, and a locker room full of great guys. He just said it would be a fun place to play, and I took his word for it.”
Lidstrom, in town on a family vacation, said that he wasn’t aware that he was DeKeyser’s favorite player when Ken Holland put him on the phone with DeKeyser last week.
“Yeah, I talked to him a few days ago, I know he’s coming to a very good organization, a very committed organization, a team that wants to win, ownerships that want to win, and he’s from the area, so I’m sure he’s very excited about playing here in front of his family.”
Lidstrom said DeKeyser didn’t have many questions to ask while the two chatted.
“Not really, I don’t think he was ready for my call. I don’t think he was expecting me to call him. He’s more listening to what I had to say, I know he had a lot of teams that were asking for him and he had meetings with a lot of teams so I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision for him, but we’re very happy to have him here.”
For DeKeyser, talking to and meeting Lidstrom is just another first in a long list of new experiences. He said he was pleased with how his first skate went, and now he’s focused on “getting his feet wet” as he adjusts to the pro game.
“I think just kind of adjusting to the next level,” DeKeyser said when asked what he needed to work on most. “The guys are a little bit bigger and a little bit strong here, and a little bit quicker, so it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment for me, but hopefully I can come in and be fine.
[The first practice] was good, I haven’t skated in a few days, but trying to get my legs under me a little bit. It was a smooth skate, good tempo, that’s for sure.”
Shortly after the Red Wings’ practice concluded, the club announced that they had traded away defenseman Kent Huskins to the Philadelphia Flyers, presumably to make room the roster for DeKeyser. Red Wings GM Ken Holland said that DeKeyser has officially signed a contract, which will be processed with the league sometime tomorrow.
With the DeKeyser addition, the Wings now have nine defensemen on the roster, with Kyle Quincey currently out of the line-up due to a facial injury, though he was skating with a cage this morning.