Per various reports, the Predators are one of about five teams on the shortlist to land highly-coveted college free agent defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who just finished his junior season at Western Michigan University. DeKeyser considered leaving the Broncos after last season as well, but eventually decided to stick around for another year. Also rumored to be in contention for his services are the Oilers, Blues, Ducks, Lightning and at the front of the pack, his hometown Detroit Red Wings.
Interested parties are limited by the entry-level max as dictated by the CBA: 900K base, with up to 450K in incentives. With the financial aspect being a level playing field, it will come down to various fringe and intangible benefits.
Before I go too far into what sort of things the Predators could offer DeKeyser to entice him to sign, I’ll give you a bit of a scouting report. I’ve seen DeKeyser play about 12 times in the last two seasons, mostly while trying to catch his teammate Chase Balisy, a 2011 pick of the Predators. DeKeyser has a big frame, at about 6’3, 205 pounds. He’s a decent skater for his size, possesses a terrific outlet pass, and is rock-solid in his own end. A left-handed shot, DeKeyser is comfortable in all situations, but his value to the current incarnation of the Nashville Predators would be in his defensive acumen. His hockey sense and stickplay are off the charts, and I think he could play on an NHL penalty kill immediately.
Stylistically, I would compare him to Brad Stuart, although a bigger, more physical Kevin Klein\Dan Hamhuis also comes to mind.
Now, what will it take to get DeKeyser to sign? As I mentioned, the money will be the same no matter where he goes. In order to get him aboard, it’s likely going to take a promise of at least a reasonable shot at an NHL roster spot immediately. As Dirk Hoag writes here, this isn’t the traditional protocol followed by the “road to Nashville leads through Milwaukee” Predators. However, it’s also not unprecedented: in the summer of 2011, the Predators promised a roster spot to Craig Smith as a means to get him to leave the University of Wisconsin a year early. Dirk and I disagree on the idea of inserting him directly into a lineup that’s chasing a playoff spot, and in normal circumstances I might feel the same way. However, he would be supplanting the icetime of a similarly-inexperienced Victor Bartley and a plagued-by-inconsistency Jonathan Blum.
While Bartley has been fine as a band-aid, DeKeyser could (in my opinion) provide a similar level of play, but with a higher long-term upside. The point about the playoff chase is well-made, but it should be pointed out that better teams than the Predators– the Red Wings, Ducks and Blues– are all making similar pitches. I really like DeKeyser’s game, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t count for a whole lot–but it would seem that NHL scouts strongly agree, and a lot of effort is going into wooing him.
I think that even if the Predators can’t “guarantee” a spot next to Klein THIS season (although I believe their goal would be to use DeKeyser as the long-term completion to the second pair), there’s little risk in slotting him in on at least the third for the rest of the season. Blum and certainly Hannan haven’t played well enough that knocking either out of the lineup permanently would be a huge sacrifice, if that’s what it takes to get DeKeyser to sign on the dotted line.
At the end of the day, I can’t imagine that the Predators are investing all of this effort–sending an envoy consisting of head coach Barry Trotz, general manager David Poile, and assistant general manager Paul Fenton up to Toronto to meet with Danny and his agent Don Meehan–if they’re not pretty serious about their interest. Skipping the usual “earn your stripes in Milwaukee” routine may just be part and parcel of making it happen.
DeKeyser is expected to make a decision by the end of this week, and I’ll have my fingers crossed that the Predators can pull it off. He would add a big boost to a defensive prospect pool that is evaporating to uncomfortably shallow levels.