Nashville Predators hockey communications manager Kevin Wilson set fans aglow this morning with news that the Preds are making a serious push to land college free agent defenseman Danny DeKeyser of Western Michigan:
DeKeyser is the plum of the college free agent market, which breaks open at this time every year. Basically, with the college season over (except for those teams in the NCAA tournament) there are a number of previously undrafted players who have earned the attention of NHL scouts. Theoretically they are eligible to sign and step right into an NHL lineup, but in practical terms very few players are ready to make that leap, as NCAA hockey is a couple good steps below the NHL. College tends to make an excellent training ground for defensemen (who often develop late anyway) due to the practice-heavy schedule. Typically a team practices all week and plays games only on Friday & Saturday, as opposed to junior hockey which has a greater emphasis on game-action.
An article I clipped this morning from the Edmonton Journal highlights just why teams are so worked up over DeKeyser. Here's what former L.A. Kings & St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray (who now coaches the Broncos) had to say about him:
Murray described DeKeyser as a "late-bloomer," who was only on a partial scholarship at Western Michigan, to begin with, before his sparkling all-around play earned him a full ride.
Asked whether DeKeyser, as some suggest, is ready to make the jump to the NHL and perform well right away, Murray said: "He's very close. "It all depends on what the organization wants."
Murray said DeKeyser, listed at six-feet-three and 198 pounds, had added strength this season, and upgraded his offensive game, as well.
"His calling card is really five things - his work ethic, on and off the ice; his skating ability; his defensive stick; his talent as a puck mover; and his intelligence as a hockey player."
Before you get too giddy about what an injection of talent like that might mean for the Predators' playoff run (James at the Predatorial is particularly hot on the idea), keep in mind that rushing a kid from college directly into a major role during a playoff race is pretty much the opposite of what the Nashville organization does. As much as some might object to various aspects of how they run things, one thing the Predators are justifiably respected for is their ability to develop quality defensemen.
While many teams will dangle money & opportunity in front of the young blueliner, I can't imagine the Preds promising him an NHL roster spot in the near term. It would make infinitely more sense, for both the team and the player, to have him get started with Milwaukee and prove himself there first. If things go well? Who knows, but even if the Preds win this sweepstakes I wouldn't count on this having an impact on the team's current playoff chase.
At least we know he's a pretty well-spoken guy - here he is accepting the 2013 CCHA Best Defensive Defenseman Award: