What if I told you your favorite team could pick up a serviceable NHL player at the trade deadline without costing any player assets? Your response would probably be, “Yes, that sounds good. Please tell me more.”
Well it's possible and it doesn't require a waiver claim, either. Regardless of any team's status as a buyer or seller at the April 3 trade deadline in the NHL, every club, if it chooses, will have an opportunity to add a valuable asset for its present and, more importantly, its future.
One of the most sought after players in all of hockey is a 23-year-old junior defenseman at Western Michigan . His name is Danny DeKeyser and just about every team in the NHL is going to try to sign him as an undrafted unrestricted free agent as soon as his college season officially ends.
The Broncos were eliminated from their conference playoffs last weekend, but remain on the bubble for a bid to the national tournament. Should WMU miss out, DeKeyser can start fielding offers as early as Sunday.
He was one of the most sought after college free agents last season, with all 30 teams reportedly interested in signing him then, but he chose to stay in school for one more year. The move may have paid off as he's more developed and perhaps ready to contribute at the NHL level immediately.
One NHL scout thought DeKeyser could transition into an NHL team's lineup right away, whether that team is in the playoff hunt or not. At the risk of over-hyping DeKeyser, wherever he signs, it's highly likely he's in the NHL lineup perhaps even before the ink dries.
The 6-foot-3, 198-pound blueliner is a gifted two-way defender who excels in his own zone. He plays a simple, mature game, can play the body and makes a good first pass out of the zone. DeKeyser had two goals and 13 assists after two previous seasons of 17 points at the college level. He might have a little more offensive upside than his numbers suggest, but his defensive game is high end already.
Having spent the last two years under the tutelage of former NHL head coach Andy Murray and a year before that under Jeff Blashill, who left Western Michigan for a job with the Detroit Red Wings, DeKeyser is well schooled in what it takes to play at the next level. He clearly made the most of his extra year of development and all of the offers from last year are still there.
DeKeyser wouldn't be any team's savior. After all, he has no NHL experience and there would be some amount of adjustment. He's a good player who has an NHL skill set and he would almost certainly help a team right now though. What makes him so intriguing is that every single team in the league has a chance to make a valuable acquisition without sparing any more than a maximum entry-level contract.
The level of interest, which can be misleading in regards to a player's actual talent, is twofold. Yes, he is a good player, but the economics of acquiring a player like him is a big part of what's driving the majority NHL teams to try to sign him.
If a team is looking like it's on the outside of the playoff picture, it can acquire a high-end prospect that can gain valuable NHL experience in the last month of the season. There's a little more risk involved if a playoff team is to acquire DeKeyser, but if it's one that needs defensive help immediately, he makes a lot of sense. Based on his performance in the last month of the season at the NHL level, the team will have a pretty good idea if he is ready enough to be part of the playoff roster.
One of the most common phrases in trade deadline reports is “defensemen are so hard to find” in terms of what's available as the deadline nears. In this current trade market, with so many teams feeling they're still in the hunt for the playoffs and seemingly all of them looking to add something of value at the deadline, a player at DeKeyser's price – essentially free -- is a rare occurrence.
For DeKeyser, though he will have essentially endless options, the choice isn't a simple one. There will be many factors to consider when he examines his decision, but it is probably safe to assume that the teams that are serious about acquiring him are going to dangle the opportunity to play this season. In doing so, DeKeyser would be able to burn a year off his entry-level contract, getting him closer to restricted free agency.
With potentially all 30 teams interested, the recruiting war should be highly interesting, perhaps similar to that of now Edmonton Oilers rookie Justin Schultz last summer, only with a little more urgency.
Schultz became an unrestricted free agent after he refused to sign with the team that drafted him, the Anaheim Ducks. The leaguewide pursuit of Schultz became a bit of a circus, but it was the offseason. With the compressed schedule in the NHL, the DeKeyser sweepstakes could be a bit more desperate, especially for teams that have immediate needs.
Schultz could end up being the more impactful player over the course of his career with his high-end offensive capabilities, but DeKeyser's simple game has a lot of value for NHL teams. After all, defensemen are so hard to find, right?
While names like Jarome Iginla and Ryan Miller will get a lot of the trade deadline headlines, don't sleep on DeKeyser. NHL teams certainly won't.