Welcome back to Last Word on Hockey’s Detroit Red Wings Daily Player Previews. In this series, we will be taking a look at who the team rolled out last season, players they acquired in the offseason, and other prospects to look out for while looking at how they all shape up for the upcoming 2016-17 season. We left off at Darren Helm. Today, it’s the new kid on the block entering his second full season, Dylan Larkin.
Center, 20 years old
Signed for two years, $925,000 cap hit (entry-level contract)
80 games played
23 goals (Led team)
Five game-winning goals (Led team)
45 points (Tied for third)
221 shots (Led team)
34 penalty minutes
43 takeaways (Second)
52.5% Corsi-for percentage (+0.9 relative)
Power Play TOI:
163:26 (Seventh among Detroit forwards)
Four power-play goals, five power-play points
Penalty Kill TOI:
Already with an assist on the scoresheet and his team up 2-0, an increased confidence led to a shot that he had been perfecting ever since he picked up the game. 19-year old Dylan Larkin, the first teen to make the Wings’ opening night lineup since Mike Sillinger in 1990, squeezed that wrister from the left circle up and over Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier‘s blocker side and made one thing clear just over a year since his name was called by Detroit at Wells Fargo Center.
He had arrived. All those years in the dungeon had paid off.
Yes, in a change of Red Wing culture, Larkin signed his entry-level deal with Detroit one summer ago and turned pro tremendously quicker than most anticipated. Proceeding to make the final cut at training camp, he rewarded the faith head coach Jeff Blashill and General Manager Ken Holland had in him rather quickly.
24 games into the season, Larkin had scored ten goals and 18 points, including a stretch at the end of November when he notched a goal in six of seven games to close out the month. He was awarded the NHL‘s Rookie of the Month and became the first Red Wing rookie with a four-game goal streak since Steve Yzerman in 1984-85. His first half of 15 goals and 33 points earned him a spot in the NHL All-Star Game, the lone representative of Detroit and first rookie to represent the franchise in the event since, you guessed it, Yzerman. While he was there, he may have fooled around and broken a 20-year old record for fastest skater in the annual skills competition that was previously set by 700-goal scorer Mike Gartner with a run of 13.172 seconds, or something.
The second half, however, showed the vulnerability that most NHL rookies like Larkin possess. Following three goals in the first four games back from the break, he had six goals and nine points in the final 34 contests including Detroit’s cup of coffee in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. As a rite of spring in the NHL, the Belle Tire product joined the number of players among him and one that came before him in an exercise of adjustment teams employ that separates the good from the best. It did not help that the highest amount of games he played in a single season topped out at 60 for the US National Development Team.
Though Larkin did hit a rookie wall that dropped him from the Calder Trophy rankings, overall, it was one of the best seasons by a Red Wing rookie in a while given his impact on a relatively average team. Leading the squad in goals as a freshman, he was the first Red Wing to do so in his first year since the Joe Louis Arena’s inaugural season. The Red Wings made the playoffs with one more regulation win than the Boston Bruins, and Larkin played a part in winning five crucial games with big-time tallies. His energy made players around him better, including linemate and captain Henrik Zetterberg, who seemed to tail off at the same time Larkin hit his wall, scoring five goals and 18 points in the same span Larkin had his slide versus four goals and 20 points in the season-opening run 24 contests in.
Stepping into his sophomore season, Larkin will have all the opportunities to prove that he is in the latter category. Pavel Datsyuk and Brad Richards, two of the Wings’ main top-six contributors last season, have retired. Frans Nielsen was brought in to provide an experienced stability at the second-line spot coming off of a 20-goal, 50-point season, but there is a gaping hole at the top of the depth chart that the team needs to fill. Zetterberg is not the man to do it turning 36 years old next month, already hampered by back surgery in the past and a knee injury in the present. He already expects to start on the wing.
The new, young wave needs its signature start, and that would be tabbing Larkin with the top center spot logging more minutes on the power play (four power play goals-fifth among Detroit forwards) and a lot more time penalty killing, a role he was used in extensively at the 2015 World Championships. New assistant coach Doug Houda‘s 11th-ranked penalty-killing unit consisted of skilled players in Boston like Brad Marchand, Loui Eriksson, and David Krejci. Two of those guys scored 30 goals and all of them totaled 60 points and up. That bodes well for Larkin to get more time utilizing his speed and smarts for a more dangerous short-handed unit that scored just two short-handed goals last season to Boston’s nine.
There is always concern for a sophomore slump, especially with how Larkin faired in the second half last season. There will be some growing pains and pressure that comes with taking the spot once held by a future Hall of Famer, but overall, the Wings can’t go wrong with Larkin headlining their lineup from the top. Built for today’s NHL, his speed and hockey IQ showed from the wing last season as seen with his takeaway total, shot generation, and possession numbers. The Red Wing brass got to see a preview of what Larkin could do from the middle at the 2016 World Championships in May suiting up for Team USA, and he didn’t disappoint, putting up two goals and nine points in ten games against men. He had one assist in the same tournament the season prior.
Moving to a spot he’s been comfortable at in the past will make the transition more favorable. A youth movement has to happen sooner or later, and getting the former Wolverine the experience now will pay off later in his career. Expect him to be in the middle to start the season on if not first, the second line as the Wings continue to move forward with D-Boss as a franchise centerpiece. He should be in game shape by the time the season starts, as he looks to help Team North America contend for the World Cup of Hockey this September.
82 games played
28 penalty minutes
53% Corsi-for percentage
Six power play goals, 15 power play points
Two shorthanded goals
Yzerman goal streak stat courtesy of mLive