Taste of playoffs buoys Wings rookie Larkin

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Dylan Larkin

Detroit — Dylan Larkin’s role is not to say the Red Wings roster requires change.

Not yet.

Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall have led for long seasons. They can make blunt assessments about a substandard season.

But a 19-year-old rookie, especially one of Larkin’s resolute bearing, defends his teammates.

Asked if the status of the Wings roster conjured any realization of an approaching time, perhaps not many seasons distant, when he might lead, the best Red Wings rookie since Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov said, “I don’t think there’s a situation with the roster,” in a media relations equivalent of a poke-check at the blue line.

“I think we have a lot of good players in here. I think with some guys moving on it’s an opportunity for young guys to come in,” Larkin said. “It’s like Blash (coach Jeff Blashill) said, you’ve got to look in the mirror and you’ve got to want to be better. And I certainly do, to try to help the team.

“Yeah, I had a good start. But I’m not happy with the way the season went, as a whole.”

Larkin’s keen awareness of hockey lends credence to the thought he is the great hope for the Red Wings.

The rosters in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Toledo are in the state they are in because of the lack of top draft choices the past two decades.

Larkin is the highest choice to arrive since 1992.

His rookie season was a singular success of the Wings season.

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“It was an early exit,” he said. “You know, it’s tough; especially your first playoffs your first season.

“You’re excited about the playoffs and you’re happy just to get there, and you don’t realize as a rookie it’s not easy playing those games. You’ve got to win four to move on and we didn’t do that.

“I think being in the playoffs helps me for next year. I think that was probably one of my best experiences I had this whole year, was getting that taste of playoff hockey, and knowing what it takes to be better for next year.”

His effort and drive encourage thoughts Larkin truly is the next big deal for the Red Wings; a first-round pick around whose success, if sustained, the franchise can rebuild.

From the extra time at practicing to the glimpses of an inner fury that flash occasionally in games, Larkin has attributes that, in some players, leads to greatness.

What no one can foresee is how far Larkin’s obvious abilities can take him.

The first Wings All-Star since Steve Yzerman, Larkin scored the most goals (23) as a rookie since Fedorov (31) did 25 years ago and garnered the most points (45) as a rookie since Lidstrom (60) did 24 years ago.

And that was on a team that ranked 23rd in goals scored.

Larkin had his first experience with teams targeting him with extra coverage and the rough stuff. He also had his first experience with an 82-game season, a nip-and-tuck stretch drive and the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The results were mostly good.

Larkin provided a sense that if the team was clicking more offensively, it would have performed with greater success.

Only five of his 23 goals and eight of his 45 points came after Feb. 6. He had but one point in the playoffs, the goal over which he exulted in Game 2.

He did not tire physically, Larkin said. But he did have his first experience with the dog days of the NHL season.

“I think mentally it gets hard in January and February,” he said. “I thought I played pretty well, but obviously point production went down and it got tough there over the last 20 or 30 games.”

As for the offseason, gaining weight and strength is a goal for any 19-year-old hockey player, and Larkin said he is on board with the program and looking forward to working on his skills.

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“I’ll meet with the coaches and see what we can kind of come up (with) to work on,” he said. “I have some ideas.

“But I hope to have a big summer.”

It is premature to put a franchise savior tag on him. But Larkin clearly is the fondest hope of the Red Wings.

If he holds up his end of the bargain and realizes his dream, the Wings have secured a big part of their future, no matter how distant.

For now, he is a young player after a fine rookie year on his way to play for his country in the World Championships in Russia, despite what was the longest season of his life.

“You know, I just want to keep playing hockey,” Larkin said. “I’ve got a nice week off, but I’m going to be ready to get back out there. There’s a lot of young guys going, and I’m friends with most of the college guys.

“So, it’ll be fun to go play hockey with my friends.”


Twitter: @greggkrupa