Let’s get something crystal clear right from the beginning: Nicklas Lidstrom is a once-in-a-generation talent and is irreplaceable.
That said, it isn’t altogether crazy to believe that Danny DeKeyser may be the closest thing the Detroit Red Wings will get to Nick Lidstrom 2.0.
Though DeKeyser has only 29 NHL games under his belt (27 regular-season games and two playoff games), he has displayed a level of hockey sense and defensive awareness many veteran NHL defenders never reach.
Like Lidstrom, DeKeyser appears to have a preternatural understanding of the game and his role within it.
Though only 23 years old, DeKeyser approaches the game from a particularly mature standpoint. He recognizes his role is to control the puck defensively, in the simplest possible way—be that throwing it off the glass and out of the zone, or carrying it to the red line.
This kind of calm awareness was also displayed early on by Lidstrom and became the hallmark of his incredible talent.
What made Lidstrom such an outstanding defensive player wasn’t just his awareness of the game, but also his efficiency on the ice.
Rare was the shift that one would see Lidstrom put himself out of position on a play, scramble to cover his lane or skate himself into exhaustion.
He knew where to be and when to be there 99 percent of the time and exerted only the requisite amount of effort along the way.
Now, DeKeyser may not yet be at that level of efficiency, but he’s certainly proved that that kind of regular excellence is a realistic expectation for him.
In fact, DeKeyser’s skating ability may actually exceed Lidstrom’s even now. DeKeyser doesn’t as much skate but glide across the ice, and he exhibits a control and grace that no Red Wing has displayed since Sergei Fedorov.
However, making performance-based comparisons between DeKeyser and Lidstrom is only part of the story.
Nick Lidstrom’s first year in Detroit during the 1991-92 season saw the Red Wings defense in a state of transition.
Lidstrom took his first shifts in the NHL alongside veterans such as Brad McCrimmon and Lee Norwood and with fellow rookie Vladimir Konstantinov; the veterans looked upon the two youngsters as the start of a new era on Detroit’s blue line.
While DeKeyser’s current partner Niklas Kronwall, who has himself compared DeKeyser to Lidstrom, remains the Red Wings’ top defender, the torch he currently carries will need to be passed on to someone else sooner rather than later.
At 23, DeKeyser could very well become that player and emerge as not only the Red Wings’ top defenseman, but also, like Lidstrom, become the embodiment of Red Wings defense itself.
DeKeyser not only has displayed remarkable similarities to Lidstrom on the ice, but is starting his career in much the same fashion.
As such, it stands to reason that No. 65 could become as important a number on Detroit’s roster as No. 5 was in the past.
After all, DeKeyser, a Detroit-area native, grew up watching Red Wings hockey defined by the play of No. 5 in red and donned the same number throughout his college career.
He has been preparing himself to become this kind of player since he began playing the game, and it shows.
Then again, if there’s one area of the game that DeKeyser has yet to fully display as expertly as did Lidstrom, it is on the offensive side of the ice.
However, even then, there is reason to believe that that too may be something the two players will have in common.
Call it coincidental or wishful thinking but, when one compares DeKeyser’s first NHL goal with Lidstrom’s, one sees that they’re virtually mirror images of each other.
Nicklas Lidstrom will never be replaced, but Danny DeKeyser is showing that he may very well be the next best thing.