Larkin's rookie class wows Wings vets

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit —  It’s a different type of rookie that is entering the NHL these days, and it leaves Niklas Kronwall shaking his head in amazement.

Young players such as Dylan Larkin and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel (both age 19), and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (18) and Arizona’s Max Domi and Anthony Duclair (20) have come in and seamlessly cracked their team’s lineups.

“It’s amazing,” Kronwall said. “It really is. To see guys 18 or 19 years old and already there mentally. It’s pretty impressive. You don’t see that very often.”

All are providing offense, making highlight-reel plays, and exhibiting a professionalism and poise that is leaving veteran players and coaches impressed.

How are such young players moving into the NHL without needing much of a stop in the minor leagues, if at all?

The training they’re receiving at a young age is definitely a key.

“They’re getting ready at an earlier age,” Kronwall said. “At age 15, 16, they have everything already dialed in. Whether it’s trainers, or shooting and skating coaches, or nutrition, that’s another big thing that’s getting more and more important, they already know what they want.

“If you look back, that wasn’t always the case. It’s just impressive.”

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The question, naturally, then was whether Kronwall, just days from his 35th birthday, had a skating coach when he was a teenager back in Sweden.

“We were happy to have ice,” Kronwall said.

Coach Jeff  Blashill saw many quality young players while behind the bench in junior hockey and Western Michigan.

Blashill, too, feels elite young players are better equipped to handle the demands of the NHL.

“They probably come in more prepared,” Blashill said. “From a physical standpoint, they (weight)lift at an early age and they train. My son is nine-years-old and they’re talking about off-ice training with their team.

“They just come in more prepared off the ice and I also think they need to because of the accessibility and challenges they’ll face with social media, it’s more so than years ago.”

But Blashill is quick to point out that special young talents have always come into the NHL and excelled at an early age.

This particular group is simply the latest in quite a few dominant rookie classes.

“Elite players have always transferred into the league and have had success,” Blashill said. “Steve Yzerman came into the league and had success. That’s what elite players do. (Chicago’s) Patrick Kane came into the league and had success and Jonathan Toews (did also), and they both won a Stanley Cup (in their third years).”

Blashill also feels the NHL is working younger players into lineups because of the style of play these days.

“With the speed factor in the league, you have to be able to skate at a high level,” Blashill said. “That probably lends to younger legs at times.”

Skill is important, but forward Henrik Zetterberg views a trait that his linemate Larkin has had from the first day of training camp that’s also pretty important.

“He’s a hard worker,” said Zetterberg of Larkin. “He’s always working off the ice, too, getting stronger. And in practice.

“He’s got all the tools and becoming a real good player.”