Detroit — The two 19-year-olds are among the best rookies in the game, whose bright futures may well extend long into the future and they both play for teams in the Atlantic Division.
The fact that Dylan Larkin and Jack Eichel are both Americans suggests they will continue to be teammates in international tournaments, over the years, skating in red, white and blue for the United States, as they have already.
And they are pals.
Larkin, of Waterford Township, and Eichel of North Chelmsford, Massachusetts hung around together from 2012 to 2014 in Ann Arbor when they trained and played with the National Team Development Program of USA Hockey.
On Tuesday, they were to play against each other for the first time in the NHL, as the Red Wings met the Sabres.
“Really well,” Larkin said, when asked how well he knows Eichel.
“We played together for two years, and then we were with each other last year at the World Junior Championships.
“So, you know, yeah, real familiar with him.”
A couple of months ago, Larkin, the 15th pick in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, began receiving significant media and fan attention. Eichel, the second pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, started getting a lot of it a year earlier, when hockey folks across North American wondered whether he or Connor McDavid would go first in the draft.
At Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday morning, as the Wings and Sabres participated in their game day morning skates and met the media, the harsh glare of publicity was all over the two “kids” and their friendship.
“I think it will be a normal game,” Larkin said, with a hit of hopefulness, despite the half-circle of a dozen people around him, holding recorders, microphones or cameras.
“I think it will be pretty cool to see him out there,” said the Wings’ leading goal scorer before, for the umpteenth time, providing evidence of his maturity. “And I know we have to watch him.”
Like a lot of teenaged guys asked about such things, they were not exactly expansive in their responses to questions about the source of their friendship.
You know, like, they played hockey and hung out. I mean, what’s the big deal, anyway?
“We became friends at the NTDP the first year,” Larkin said. “Everyone on the team was pretty close with each other, and we won a world championship together (2014 IIHF World U18 Championships).
“So, I’d say we were pretty close.”
Eichel said it is exciting to play his “good friend” in the NHL, for the first time.
About the friendship? Hey, it is kind of like Larkin said, they hung out.
“We had a lot in common,” Eichel said. “We like to do the same things. He’s a good guy who likes to work hard at the rink and things like that. But I think it’s important when you get away from the rink to enjoy yourself and I know he’s a good guy to be around off the ice.
“And it helped that we lived near each other in Ann Arbor.”
The guys, who both plainly know tons about hockey, provided scouting reports, on each other.
“I think his size and speed and then his hockey sense.” Larkin said.
“You know, it doesn’t look like he’s skating fast and then he’ll blow by defensemen. And then he can go wide and cut to the middle, and create that lane to the net.
“And you know, he’s good at finishing
“And then one thing I noticed this year is his shot,” Larkin said, not to leave a detail undisclosed. “He’s just beating goalies clean. And I think it’s a deceptive shot, too.
“I think we’ve got to eliminate his time and space,” said the 19-year-old, about to enter his 25th NHL game.
Who is better, Larkin was asked.
Without hesitation the Red Wings wunderkind said, “He’s better.”
Eichel is pretty impressed by his buddy, too.
“When you see how good of a shot he has and how fast he is, like he can make plays at top speed,” Eichel said, listing some attributes.
“I mean, you guys are all getting used to this,” he said to a similar half-circle of media, arrayed around him. “I’ve seen it for years now, so I’m not surprised.”
Like both 19-year-olds, coach Jeff Blashill said the game between the Wings and Sabres, contesting available points in the same division, far exceeds any interest in the two talented young friends, meeting in the NHL for the first time.
But Blashill allowed that, especially as an American, it is good to see such strong young talent.
“What I like about it, from my perspective, is the fact that they’re both U.S. guys,” Blashill said. “And I don’t say that with any disrespect to any other (country).
“Ultimately, when we get to world competitions, I like cheering for the U.S. I’m a U.S. guy. I like coaching U.S. teams. I like being around that.
“I like the fact they’re both U.S. guys. I think it’s great for the U.S. game, especially.”