The Detroit Red Wings are finally injecting some youth into an aging roster, and while All-Star rookie Dylan Larkin and possible Veznia candidate Petr Mrazek have gotten the most attention, they aren’t alone.
Danny DeKeyser has become one of the Wings’ top defensemen at the age of 25, providing some fresh legs on the blue line for a team that relied for too long on the same set of defensemen.
Now, though, Jeff Blashill has a younger group that also includes 24-year-old Alexey Marchenko and 26-year-old Brendan Smith. They will become especially important in the first couple weeks after the All-Star break, as Niklas Kronwall remain sidelined after having arthroscopic knee surgery in January.
With Kronwall out, Blashill was forced to juggle his defensive pairings, and now has one of the three younger players in each group. DeKeyser is playing with Kyle Quincey, Marchenko is teamed up with Jonathan Ericsson, and Smith is paired with Mike Green.
DeKeyser, though, has been the most successful of the three younger defenders. After missing four games at the beginning of the season with a foot injury, he now leads Detroit’s blue liners with six goals and is third in points with 14, behind Green and Kronwall.
The Western Michigan product has earned enough of Blashill’s trust to rank second on the team in minutes per game, clocking up 21:13 a night – about 90 seconds less than Kronwall. That gap is sure to close during the Swede’s absence as DeKeyser takes over as the No. 1 defenseman, and even after his return, because he won’t be at 100 percent as a 35-year-old with a bad knee.
He also posts an impressive plus-11 on a team that has allowed more goals than they have scored. Only Larkin, who leads the league at plus-24 and the ageless Pavel Datsyuk (plus-12) are ahead of him, and he’s well ahead of veterans like Green (minus-6) and Kronwall (minus-10).
Ericsson was his partner for much of the season, but various injuries and returns have scrambled things. He spent much of January teamed with Marchenko – one of the only times he’s been the veteran of the pairing – and has now steadily working alongside Quincey.
That pairing, though, has been a disaster according to advanced metrics. For every 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play that they have been on the ice together, the Wings have taken about 40 shots while allowing almost 58. To be fair to DeKeyser, though, that seems to be more about Quincey, since Green and Quincey’s numbers are almost as bad, even though Green has been above average with all of his other defense partners.
DeKeyser has had more offensive success with Marchenko and Ericsson, and a lot more defensive success during rare matchups with Kronwall. His best pairing, though, is with Green. They’ve only played 65 minutes together all year, but Detroit averages 10 shots more than they allow with them on the ice.
However, the advanced metrics in combination show that, while the shot attempt differentials might be negative while he’s playing – his Corsi For percentage is 46.3, behind every defensemen other than Quincey and Ericsson – there’s evidence that scoring chances don’t match. Not only does he have the high plus-minus total, but his PDO is 104.4 – second on the team to Larkin’s 107.6.
That means that when he’s playing in 5-on-5 situations, Mrazek and Jimmy Howard are combining to stop 94.8 percent of opposing shots, while the Red Wings are scoring on 9.6 percent of their shots. The two defensemen right behind him in that stat? Quincey and Ericsson, the same two that have struggled so badly with their Corsi For numbers. They give up a lot of shots, but few quality scoring opportunities. Not many players are able to minimize both shots and scoring chances, which is why Datsyuk’s ability to control both is one of the many reasons he is surely headed for the Hall of Fame.
DeKeyser isn’t spectacular, but he’s a young defenseman that can play on a top pairing, kill penalties – an situation where he does have a strong Corsi For percentage relative to his teammates – post a high PDO and score a few goals.
That’s a player who, like Larkin and Mrazek, should be a piece of the Red Wings foundation for several years to come.