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Dylan Larkin tops tough choices for Red Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — NHL teams have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to submit their opening night rosters.

What to do with any number of impressive young prospects will be foremost on the minds in the Red Wings front office as they whittle down to the 23-player limit.

They’ll need one of their young defensemen to step in to fill the void left by Danny DeKeyser (sprained left foot ligaments) for the next month.

And then decide the futures of a long list of talented forwards led by Waterford’s Dylan Larkin, but including Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi and Tomas Nosek.

Those are good problems to have. And it’s another sign the depth in the organization is real and should keep the Red Wings stable for a long time.

“The future looks good,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “The last couple of years it was (Gustav) Nyquist, (Tomas) Tatar, (Riley) Sheahan, (Luke) Glendening, among others, and now the second wave is coming up.”

The future of Larkin, 19, appears to be the most pressing question among Red Wings fans.

Last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year showed he’s not far from being NHL-ready right now — in five exhibition games he had three goals and one assist and was plus-3 — but with 16 NHL forwards on their roster, it seems Larkin will begin the season in Grand Rapids.

“You look at a player like Dylan in two different situations,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “One, does he help our team, does he make our team better. That’s the No. 1 thing we’d have to determine, whether he makes our team better than somebody else.

“Then two, what’s best for his development. Where he would fit into the lineup would play into that decision.

“I don’t want to specifically say it would have to be top-three (lines) but that’s definitely part of the conversation (general manager) Ken Holland and I will have.”

Blashill preached patience if it comes down to simply a “numbers” situation, with the Red Wings having too many forwards.

“If it is a numbers game, it would only be short term,” Blashill said. “I know Ken is real committed so if a guy deserves to be here, he is going to be here.”

Playing against the likes of Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron during the past two weeks, Larkin felt confident he could compete at that level on a nightly basis.

“I wanted to be the best player in the world since I was a little kid,” Larkin said. “Playing against Kane, Toews, Crosby, Bergeron, I think I can be there. I know it’s just preseason but with how competitive those guys are and how they were playing, in my career that’s the kind of player I want to be.”

As to filling DeKeyser’s spot, either Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet or Alexey Marchenko — all of whom have played well during the exhibition season — will start the season in the NHL.

Good additions

Forward Brad Richards and defenseman Mike Green were signed on July 1 to add veteran leadership and fill holes on the Red Wings roster.

Both have showed during the last three weeks they could be valuable additions.

Both are savvy veterans who blend important variables into the young locker room.

“What I’ve learned the most is they look to be winners in terms of the people they are and with the approach they take,” Blashill said. “They both want to get better, both are receptive to coaching and they work extremely hard.”

Blashill singled out Richards’ empty-net goal Friday against Toronto.

“He didn’t just score an empty-net goal, he angled and stopped on the puck and created the turnover,” said Blashill, of Richards’ play against Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf. “He won the battle and scored the goal. Those are the things it takes to be successful at any level, and that’s why he’s been a good pro.”