If any member of the U.S. Men’s National Team has a right to play with a chip on his shoulder, it’s certainly Danny DeKeyser.
Of the eight defensemen on the U.S. squad currently contending for a gold medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Championship in Minsk, Belarus, the 24-year-old is the only defenseman on the roster who wasn’t drafted by a National Hockey League team.
In fact, six of the eight defensemen were first- or second-round picks, while the seventh was a fourth rounder.
The Macomb, Mich., native’s path to the NHL was untraditional to say the least. But whatever feelings of discontent might have matriculated in his mind during his labyrinthine to the league dissipated after completing his rookie season with his home-state Detroit Red Wings last month.
“I just kind of take it in stride,” said DeKeyser, who collected an assist on Seth Jones’ game-winning overtime goal against Kazakhstan on Friday. Team USA wraps up preliminary-round play against Germany on Tuesday (5:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN).
DeKeyser, who has totaled two assists in the tournament so far, played AAA hockey for Compuware in Michigan before landing in the British Columbia Hockey League for a year and then moving to the United States Hockey League. DeKeyser also helped turn Western Michigan University’s program around before finding himself in the catbird seat last year — a free agent being courted by multiple NHL teams.
Scoring 23 points in 65 games with the Red Wings this season more than proved he belongs in the NHL, and being invited to play for Team USA only further solidified his status.
“There’s a lot of good players here, so hopefully we play well and hopefully we can win the gold,” DeKeyser said of his Team USA debut. “Putting the jersey on for the first time is a great experience. Having never worn the USA logo on my chest before, it is pretty cool, definitely.”
Before the tournament started, Phil Housley, an assistant coach for the Nashville Predators who is also an assistant with Team USA in Belarus, said he was excited to meet DeKeyser for the first time.
“I really like the way he plays the game,” Housley said. “He’s a big kid that can skate; he can carry the mail. He’s playing in all situations in Detroit. He has tremendous range and great mobility. I think it’s a great thing that he’s experiencing international competition.
“I would rate him right up there in the top of our group of defenders. Watching him toward the end of the year, when it mattered in the playoffs, I thought he was solid.”
After several of Detroit’s veteran players went down with injuries this season, DeKeyser was among a group of upstarts that helped the team secure a playoff bid for the 23rd straight year — the longest active streak in all of North American major professional sports and fifth longest of its kind in NHL history.
“I think it’s good that we had some younger guys come up and reenergize us,” DeKeyser said. “We had some injuries. We weren’t sure what would happen when guys were called up, but they fit well.
“I think it was good, and it will help us in the future down the road next season.”
But coming off a first-round playoff loss to the Boston Bruins wasn’t easy.
“It’s always nice to keep playing. Obviously I wish we could have gone further in the playoffs, so this is a good opportunity to play high-level competition and keep my legs going, keep my mind on the game a little longer,” DeKeyser said. “It would have been a long offseason if I didn’t come to this. I’m glad I got invited. I will try to make good use out of it.”
After the playoffs, Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock said he thought DeKeyser didn’t have fresh legs in the final two games of the playoffs. But DeKeyser said he feels fine after he had more than a week off between the end of the Bruins’ series and traveling to Belarus.
“I feel a lot better now,” he said. “I feel more rested. I feel good.”
Having fellow Red Wing Justin Abdelkader captaining Team USA in Belarus has helped with DeKeyser’s transition to international hockey.
“I just talk to him and see how it is, see how the tournament is run and stuff like that,” DeKeyser said. “He’s usually got most of the answers because he’s been here. Anything I need to know, I just ask him.”
And now that DeKeyser's got a taste of international play, he said making the next U.S. Olympic Team seems more realistic.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to get me some experience with the international game,” he said. “As far as the Olympics go, it’s along the same lines as this, but there’s a lot bigger of a pool [of players] to pick from. I’m happy I made it here, and I know it’s going to take a lot more hard work to earn a spot in the Olympics.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.