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Ann Arbor — Dylan Larkin was a big fan of the Red Wings and University of Michigan's hockey team while growing up in Waterford.

Oh, and yes, he kept an eye close to the TV when USA played in the Olympics as well.

Well, it's easy to say Larkin is living a dream. He was drafted in the first round — 15th overall by the Red Wings this past summer in the NHL Entry Draft and is enjoying a strong freshman year with the Wolverines.

And, the 18-year-old Larkin broke up his rookie year with Michigan by competing for Team USA in the World Junior Championships in Montreal late last month, leading the team with five goals and seven points in five games, ending with a loss to Russia in the quarterfinals Jan. 2.

All the hype this season has gone to Boston University freshman Jack Eichel, but Larkin has been equally impressive with the Wolverines, especially since coming back from the World Junior games.

Eichel, the leading scorer (11 goals, 34 points) in college hockey, is expected to be a top two pick in the upcoming NHL Draft. He was recently showcased with a three-page spread in Sports Illustrated and is said by the publication to be "them most anticipated U.S. prospect since Bobby Carpenter in 1981."

Larkin, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound center, wears the No. 19 jersey and thrills Michigan fans like Steve Yzerman got Red Wings fans out of their seats.

Larkin outperformed Eichel in the World Junior Championships and was the team's leading scorer despite not playing on the power play. Ask him about Eichel and there's no jealousy of his former teammate on the U.S. National Team Development Program and World Junior Championship, just mention of Eichel's class and sense of humor.

"We went through the two years at the NTP together and he's a special player," said Larkin of Eichel. "Even though he didn't have his best tournament there's a lot of pressure on him, fifty cameras in his face every time he's talking to the media twice a day.

"He's playing against the top lines and the best players in the world and he handles it well and he's a special person too. He makes you welcome off the ice and he has funny jokes, too."

When asked to compare himself with Eichel, Larkin replied: "We both play hard. We like to play fast and have the puck. He doesn't have to spend as much time in the defensive zone because of his offensive abilities, so I think I get a little bit more credit on the two-way game. I think good defense leads to better offense."

Larkin is humble and works hard at both ends, reasons Michigan coach Red Berenson is thrilled to have him on the Wolverines. He has centered a line, which includes senior Zach Hyman, who leads them in goals (13), assists (16) and points (29) after having just 13 goals and 35 points in 115 games heading into this season.

Yes, Hyman has become one of the nation's top players and Larkin has played a role in his improvement.

Larkin carried the momentum from the World Junior games back to Michigan. After the three weeks with the U.S. team, he took a couple of days off before returning to practice with the Wolverines.

Larkin had a solid first half, being more of a play-making center. He had three goals and 16 points in his first 15 games, then came back to help the Wolverines sweep No. 9 Minnesota, chipping in with a goal and an assist in a 4-3 in overtime Jan. 9 and scoring two goals in a 7-5 win the following night to earn Berenson his 800th career victory.

He had two goals and two assists last Friday in a 10-6 rout of Ohio State and now has eight goals and 25 points this season.

The sweep of the Gophers is a great measuring stick for the Wolverines since the Gophers have one of the premier programs in the country, winning national titles in 2002 and '03 and losing to Union in last year's national championship game.

The No. 16 Wolverines (13-7) are on a roll, winning 11 of their last 13 games heading into this weekend's Big Ten series at Wisconsin (2-13-3, 0-3-1). They will be coming in with a 5-1 Big Ten record, just one point behind Penn State (5-2-1) which has played two more games.

Michigan leads the nation in scoring (4.15 goals per game). Oh, and a successful power play — 13 goals in its last 28 chances during the past eight games — has given Berenson reason for optimism while they continue their eight game road trip that includes a Jan. 30 date at Joe Louis Arena against MSU (7-11-2, 1-3-2) and an outdoor game, the Hockey City Classic, Feb. 7 at Soldier Field against the Spartans.

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

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