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The Red Wings Should Play Joe Hicketts During Danny DeKeyser’s Extended Absence

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But they aren’t, and that says something.

NHL: Preseason-Toronto Maple Leafs at Detroit Red Wings Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

According to Ansar Khan, Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser will be out for another 10 days to 3 weeks:

Aside from that being a pretty broad time range, this creates an opening to bring up another defender.

If only we had one in the AHL, who showed that he’s NHL ready in the pre-season. You know, someone who has the potential to be a blueline mainstay for years.

Oh wait, we do: Joe Hicketts.

In case you missed seeing the young defenseman in the preseason, like in the game he held his own against a speedy Toronto team, or when he looked to be among the best Detroit defenders (if not the best) in every pre-season game in which he played, Katie Strang recently wrote a profile for The Athletic (paywall).

In that article, Strang quotes director of player development and handshake enthusiast Dan Cleary:

“He was close to making our team this year,” said longtime Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary, now a director of player development with the organization. “Very, very damn close.”

Cleary, who played in 10 seasons with the Red Wings, thought Hicketts could’ve started the season with the big club. Regardless, he’s convinced he’ll get there soon.

“His will won’t be denied,” Cleary said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

While I don’t doubt Cleary believes this, the person or people who make the decision to bring players up aren’t seizing on a clear opportunity to get Hicketts into the lineup.

Detroit’s blueline has looked terrible to start the season. When they are under pressure, they have a hard time just getting out of the zone. Far too often, they leave players wide open in front of the goal for easy chances.

The team is 27th in the league in 5v5 expected goal differential, ahead of only Ottawa, Colorado, Arizona and Buffalo. Obviously that’s not only on the defense, as the forwards also play a role, but the eye test and the underlying stats both agree: Detroit’s defense needs help.

In addition to showing an ability to exit the zone as well as play responsibly defensively, Strang notes that Hicketts brings something else that Detroit could definitely use:

[Griffins coach Todd] Nelson feels he proved during camp he can run a power play at the NHL level as well, though this will be an area in which he’ll continue to get reps.

But hey, Luke Witkowski can play both defense and offense.

This, as Detroit fans know, is not surprising, as we’ve become used to seeing players who should be getting NHL minutes stay in the minors, even when opportunities arise.

Nobody can force Niklas Kronwall to go on LTIR. The team can’t trade a defenseman if the goods they are selling are not desirable to other teams.

The DeKeyser injury, on the other hand, provides an opportunity for Joe Hicketts to get some time in the NHL. I think he’s ready to be a full-time NHL defenseman, but if he’s not better than what we already have, then send him back to the AHL when DeKeyser is ready. He’s waiver exempt, so that’s not a concern.

There’s nothing to lose, and at the least he will have gained NHL experience that will help him the next time he is up with Detroit, hopefully for good.