Berenson taken aback by Larkin's ascent

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Red Berenson did his best to dissuade Dylan Larkin from leaving the Wolverines after his freshman year to pursue an NHL career with his hometown Red Wings.

Berenson didn't want to get in the way of Larkin’s NHL career. The veteran UM coach just felt Larkin would be playing in the AHL for a year or two at Grand Rapids before he even got the chance to play for the Red Wings.

Well, Berenson couldn’t stop smiling when talking about Larkin after Michigan’s practice Thursday evening at Yost Arena. Larkin is the lone rookie to be picked to play in the NHL All-Star Game Jan. 31 in Nashville, Tenn.

Yes, Larkin — a 6-foot-1, 190-pound center — is playing for the Red Wings and playing as well as any 19-year-old has in the organization since the legendary Steve Yzerman scored 39 goals as an 18-year-old rookie in 1983-84.

The Wings' first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft has 14 goals and 28 points while leading the NHL with a plus-23 at the halfway point of the season.

“I’m surprised that he’s made it look that easy and he’s probably surprised too,” Berenson said.  “He’s stepped right in, and maybe we put the NHL on too high of a pedestal, but how many 19-year-olds are doing that?

“Dylan was a good player here and he really took off after the World Junior Tournament. He came back and he led the team in scoring and that got his confidence going and he took off.”

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So, why did Berenson try to talk Larkin out of leaving?

Red Wings'  Dylan Larkin

“Detroit, I know they want to sign these guys, but I thought he’d probably be delegated to the Grand Rapids team, but then he played so well in (training) camp. It’s just that they couldn’t guarantee he’d play in Detroit. I just tried to give him my perspective. I mean Detroit’s history has not been to put 19-year-old draft picks in the lineup.

“Riley Sheahan played how many years in Grand Rapids? Nyquist led college hockey in scoring two years and he played two years in Grand Rapids. I wasn’t convinced he’d play with them, but I’m glad for Dylan. We’re not here to hold a kid back from playing in the NHL, but who would have thought he’d be doing what he’s doing and now playing in the All-Star Game?”

Sheahan, 24, a first-round pick of the Red Wing in 2010, played three years at Notre Dame, then 1½ seasons for Grand Rapids before being promoted to the parent club during the last half of the 2013-14 season.

Gustav Nyquist, 26, a fourth-round pick in 2008, had big years with Maine his final two years in college hockey in 2009-10 and 2010-11, then played two years with Grand Rapids before being called up for good with the Red Wings in 2013-14 when he scored 28 goals in 57 games.

Berenson has had a number of players leave Michigan after their freshman year, including forward Max Pacioretty (Montreal) after helping the Wolverines reach the Frozen Four in 2008 and defenseman Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg) in 2013.

When asked if he had a player come right in and contribute the way Larkin has in his rookie year, Berenson replied: “Not like that. Jacob Trouba did well and he was ready to step into the big climate, and Max Pacioretty did pretty well, but I bet he played a year in the American League before he really got a steady job with Montreal.”

Berenson feels opponents will give Larkin more attention, but he has handled the physical play well.

“They will give him more attention, but Dylan just has to skate, use his speed and his skill and do what he’s good at, but I like that he’s going into tough areas and he’s paying the price to play well,” Berenson said. “His plus-minus is another thing. If you’re going to impress the coach and you’re scoring every night or you’re creating offense and you’re not on the ice for goals against, that’s a coach’s player.”

The Waterford Township native is no stranger to his former Michigan players and coaches. He attended a home game at Yost against Minnesota last month, then joined Berenson’s radio show Tuesday night.

“He comes over here to games,” Berenson said. “He was at our last game at home against Minnesota. When we asked him (during radio show) what was the big difference, he said ‘the big difference is the players on my team are not the same age,’ like they are all older players so it’s an adjustment for him. Players of his age are in our locker room so he likes hanging out with our guys.”