Ex-Wolverine Larkin confident in leap to pros

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Dylan Larkin finally has some stability in his life.

Not that he was complaining.

A 2014 first-round pick of the Red Wings, Larkin went from playing for Team USA at the World Championship in Prague to the University of Michigan for a test to running errands for his father in Waterford before heading to Grand Rapids for 12-hour bus ride to Utica, New York, last Thursday.

"A little bit but it's kind of settling down now," said Larkin, who played in his second pro game Monday — he signed a contract last week with Detroit — and scored twice in a 4-2 victory over Utica. "Coming here has been a little bonus to my season."

If there was any doubt about his ability, Larkin showed his worth in Prague playing against NHL-level competition.

"I was leaning toward leaving (Michigan), but definitely it reassured me I was ready," Larkin, 18, said of his experience in Prague, where he played in 10 games and had on assist as Team USA won the bronze medal. "I learned a lot from all the pros overseas, how to handle yourself and be a pro. It was a great experience."

After one game of settling into his new surroundings with the Griffins, Larkin looked more comfortable in the second game in the American Hockey League Western Conference finals — and the results proved it.

"The two goals were real good, but his game overall, regardless of if he scored two goals, was real good," Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said. "I saw more assertiveness, just a guy who was more comfortable in his second game. He's just like everyone else, he has to continue to get better and how quickly he adjusts ... but so far, he's been good."

The offensive instincts and skills have been obvious, but it's Larkin's defensive responsibility and conscience that impressed Blashill.

"He has a real good defensive mind," Blashill said. "Good defensive habits. It's easier to earn the coach's trust quicker (that way) and he's done it."

Blashill believes there's a reason Larkin has been able to handle the attention and situations of the last several weeks.

"Dylan is a real grounded person," Blashill said. "It's amazing for the level of hype, how grounded he is."

And because of that, he was more than confident he was ready for the pros.

Still, make no mistake, leaving Michigan and Red Berenson specifically, was no easy thing.

"That was a tough phone call, a tough meeting," Larkin said. "We had a great relationship this year, always talking hockey, and some of the stories he has are incredible.

"I learned a lot from him, and just sharing the love of the game, I'll miss that just talking hockey with him. He taught me a lot."

But the opportunity to begin his pro career was too much of a draw.

"Play more hockey, play against bigger, stronger and more skilled competition," Larkin said, reeling off some positives of turning pro. "Obviously, staying with my friends and playing where I'm comfortable at Michigan, which will have a good team next year, I was pretty comfortable there.

"I was talking with (current Griffins teammate and former Michigan player) Kevin Porter the other day. He said, 'I have no idea how you left.' It was tough."

But now that he's in Grand Rapids, Larkin and his teammates are thrilled.

"It's kind of tough being one of the new guys, you get picked on a little bit," said Tyler Bertuzzi, who gave up his role of "new guy" to Larkin. "But it's good to have a new guy like him."

Larkin actually escaped a bit of an initiation on the road to Utica.

Instead of one bus, the Griffins took two, which meant Larkin didn't have to sleep on the floor, which some rookies have been known to do.

"That was pretty nice," Larkin said.