Detroit — For Danny DeKeyser, specifically, you could tell it meant a lot.
Being named an alternate captain, along with fellow defenseman Marc Staal, to captain Dylan Larkin, was special news for the Macomb native who grew up a Red Wings fan, and got the chance to play for his hometown team.
“Huge honor,” DeKeyser said after Thursday’s morning skate, as the Wings prepared to open the regular season at Little Caesars Arena. “It’s a team I’ve grown up watching my whole life and I had a dream growing up as a kid to play here. It’s pretty awesome and special for me, especially more so being named assistant captain.”
DeKeyser and Staal view the designations as high praise, but believe there are many other leaders on this team who will step up and lead this roster. It’s just that DeKeyser and Staal will happen to wear “A’s” on their sweaters, along with Larkin wearing the “C.”
“We have a lot of guys with a lot of experience in the room, guys like Nick Leddy and Sam Gagner, and obviously Staalsie,” DeKeyser said. “Whether you have a letter on your chest or not, it doesn’t always matter. Guys will lead and guys who’ve been around the league a long time, you have respect from the team and coaching staff, as well.
“Not much is going to change.”
Staal was acquired by the Wings before last season from the New York Rangers, and quickly established himself as strong, calming voice in the locker room.
Staal never hit the unrestricted free-agent market over the summer, preferring to stay with the Wings and sign a one-year contract.
“It means a lot; it’s a big honor and one I don’t take lightly,” Staal said of receiving a letter. “I’m excited to be part of this leadership group on this team. It’s a big honor for me. I haven’t been here a long time, but it feels like I’ve been here for a while in the last year and half and it’s been a great organization to join and I’m going to represent it the best I can.”
DeKeyser and Staal, coach Jeff Blashill said, are fine selections of being part of the official leadership group, but the Wings are fortunate to have a growing list of players who are part of the leadership group.
“We have a bunch of guys in the locker room that are going to be part of our leadership group and will lead regardless of whether they have letters on their chest, or not,” Blashill said. “Certainly Danny and Marc are both very worthy of it, both guys have been around the league a long time and in Marc’s case, he wore a letter in New York, he’s been an outstanding leader. One of the really important things we wanted when we brought him back was his leadership. He does an excellent job, I would say, of being serious being keeping it loose at the same time.
“Danny has been a real good Red Wing for a long time. His work ethic was exemplified by the work he put in coming from major back surgery. Where he was at the beginning of last season to where he is now, he’s definitely led by example and he’s a person who has real good leadership qualities.”
DeKeyser is entering is 10th season with the Red Wings, the only NHL team, he’s played for, since arriving in 2013 as an undrafted free agent from Western Michigan.
DeKeyser admits he’s beginning to feel the age difference these days, primarily in the Wings’ locker room, compared to when he arrived in the NHL.
“Time flies and the league keeps getting younger and younger,” DeKeyser said. “When I got here, the first couple of years I was the young guy on the team. We had some older teams back then. Now, you’re seeing so many young players influx into the league, young guys getting the chance every day, and it’s pretty special for me to still be here and I’m excited about it.”
Both Staal and DeKeyser were quick to point to Larkin’s leadership, and the respect Larkin has, and as earned through the years, around the Wings’ locker room.
Staal said Larkin “is the engine that runs this team and when I came here, he was without question the leader of our room and someone I leaned on when I got here.”
Blashill feels DeKeyser and Staal can complement Larkin.
“You have to be who you are and lead through your own personality and I’m real confident those two guys will do that,” Blashill said. “Just provide the leadership to help Dylan and again, you don’t want to have one guy pulling all the weight. We want to do that as a group, and it’s critically important we have guys supporting our leaders and making sure we’re pulling in the same direction.”