With end of contract near, DeKeyser makes impact in return to Red Wings lineup

Detroit News

Detroit — It sure looked as if Danny DeKeyser had played his final game in a Red Wings’ sweater.

The veteran defenseman was waived last month – no other team claimed DeKeyser – and then was immediately placed on injured reserve with an unspecified injury.

For a local player (Warren DeLaSalle/Macomb), who starred at Western Michigan and signed as an undrafted college free agent in 2013, the ending certainly appeared to not be storybook.

“There was a definite possibility he wasn’t going to play again the rest of the season, and that’s the reality of it,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “But he’s continued to be what he is, and that’s a real good pro.”

DeKeyser  32,continued to practice and get into playing shape. Sure enough, DeKeyser was activated off the injured list Wednesday and was in the lineup during the Wings’ 5-4 overtime loss to the New York Rangers.

DeKeyser, along with fellow veteran defenseman Marc Staal, stabilized and strengthened a defense group that was extremely tested in Sunday’s 11-2 shellacking in Pittsburgh.

“There’s a lot of things I can point to as a difference (Wednesday), but one of them is having those types of players in your lineup, that are smart, that can kind of calm chaos down, and Danny and Staalsie both can do that,” Blashill said. “In their best day they were really good top four defensemen in this league, and certainly both of them have slowed a little bit but they’re both real smart players and real effective that way.”

DeKeyser played 19 minutes 47 seconds, while mostly paired with Moritz Seider, and had an assist and was plus-1, while credited with one giveaway, one blocked shot.

For a player who hadn’t been in the lineup since March 5, DeKeyser was impressive.

“Danny played very well,” Blashill said. “Danny’s skating isn’t what Danny’s skating once was, that’s the reality of the toll his body has taken. But Danny is still a smart hockey player and makes real good decisions and we missed him over the last stretch.”

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DeKeyser is in the final weeks of a six-year contract worth $30 million ($5 million salary cap hit). There’s a good chance the Wings will not re-sign DeKeyser, who has struggled to return to full health after having back surgery two seasons ago, and has become a lightning rod for frustrated Wings fans on social media.

But you can’t overlook the entirety of a productive 10-year career DeKeyser has put together with the Wings.

“It’s important to remember Danny came in and did a real good job in this organization for a long time,” Blashill said. “He was a huge free agent signing, he was able to keep our organization in a better spot through those years because he could step in and be a top four defenseman and that’s hard to find.

“Danny should be applauded for his effort over the course of his career, up until now and the effort to keep in a position to play this season and come back and play right now.”

Impressive debut

Forward Oskar Sundqvist, acquired from St. Louis in the Nick Leddy trade two weeks ago, has shown flashes of being a useful piece going forward.

Sundqvist has two goals and one assist in five games, with an even rating. Blashill has used Sundstrom in both specialty teams and up and down the forward lines.

“It gives you more confidence in yourself,” said Sundqvist of being used in a variety of roles. “Confidence is a big part in our sport and when you’re getting that confidence, you obviously start playing better. I can still improve in a lot of aspects and I’m looking forward to getting better.”

Sundqvist admits he’s not quite 100 percent physically yet, after having knee and double-hip surgery in the past year.

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“Talking to guys, you won’t feel 100 percent for basically the whole year (after knee surgery) and then you add in with two hip surgeries, it’s not going to be 100 percent this year,” Sundqvist said. “But I’m doing the best I can with managing them off the ice and preparing myself for being at my best when I get out there. There’s not one time when I step on the ice I don’t try to give 100 percent.”

Ice chips

Dylan Larkin didn’t practice Thursday, nor did defensemen Filip Hronek, but Blashill said both should be ready to play against Ottawa.

…Givani Smith (upper-body) returned to practice in a non-contact jersey. Smith has missed the last four games with an injury.

…Thomas Greiss has been cleared to play, said Blashill, but whether Greiss or Alex Nedeljkovic will get the start in net Friday is unclear.

Senators at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena.

TV/radio: BSDXtra/97.1

Outlook: The Senators (23-37-6) have only won three of their last 10 games, with injuries forcing this latest slide…C Josh Norris (Oxford/Michigan) 26 goals and LW Brady Tkachuk (23 goals, 47 points) have keyed the offense.

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Twitter: @tkulfan

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