Wings' Larkin ridding 'bitter taste' with Team USA

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Dylan Larkin

Detroit – Maybe this is the first step to a bigger and better season beginning in October.

That’s certainly what the Red Wings, and fans, are hoping after watching Dylan Larkin in the world championships.

After a disappointing sophomore season, Larkin is starring for Team USA and Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill at the men’s world championships in Germany.

Heading into Saturday’s game against Latvia (6:15 a.m./NHL Network), Larkin leads Team USA with seven points, all assists. The seven assists are tied with Russia’s Artemi Panarin (Chicago Blackhawks) for the tournament lead.

“I had a bitter taste in my mouth from the season just gone and I wanted to come over here,” Larkin told the reporters after Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Italy. “Every time you get to wear this (USA) jersey it's an honor but, more than that, I wanted to finish my season on a positive note.

“We’ve got a great group coming over and we want to win medals. It’s a mix of personal things, team things, country things and I’ve got a positive feeling that we can do well in this tournament.”

Larkin’s second NHL season didn’t entirely go as smoothly as he and the Red Wings would have liked.

His offensive numbers dropped across the board compared to his rookie season – goals (from 23 to 17), assists (22 to 15), and points (45 to 32). Larkin’s plus-minus rating fell from plus-11 as a rookie to minus-28 this past season.

When the Red Wings cleaned out their lockers two days after the regular season ended on April 9, Larkin took responsibility for the disappointing season.

“I learned a lot,” Larkin said. “This year, I kind of came in and thought it would be a little bit easy and had it all figured out but clearly I didn’t.

“I need to do better in all areas and I put it on my shoulders to be ready from Day One (next season).”

Larkin cited several areas where improvement is necessary.

“Defensively, I did make some improvements there toward the end of the year, but I want to be better,” Larkin said. “Faceoffs, making my linemates better, and being strong on the puck down low, those are the biggest ones to me.”

But, overall, it’s a matter of coming into training camp and taking on the personal responsibility of being better.

“I want to be a good player and the only way to do that is to look in the mirror,” Larkin said. “You can’t have anything given to you, and it’s not just going to magically happen. So (I) need to put a little pressure on myself this summer and it will be good to feel that.

“I need to come back and do my part this summer and have a solid year next season.”

Larkin had five goals and eight assists over the last 20 games – around the same time Blashill moved Larkin to center – a sign Larkin felt he had rebounded and overcome the difficult start to the season.

“They’ll (opponents) eat you up and then it’ll get in your head and you’re screwed from there,” Larkin said. “I did learn a lot about myself and hopefully coaches learned about me.”

Mantha honored

The Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association named forward Anthony Mantha the Red Wings’ rookie of the year.

Mantha, 22, had 17 goals and 19 assists in 60 games with the Red Wings, with a plus-10 rating.

Mantha, the Red Wings’ 2013 first-round draft pick, started the season in Grand Rapids, where he scored eight goals in 10 games before being promoted to the NHL.

Mantha’s season was cut short in late March after he broke a finger in a fight with Tampa’s Luke Witkowski.

Griffins update

The Red Wings’ minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins have an opportunity to move into the third round of the American League playoffs.

Grand Rapids has a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against Chicago, with Game 5 on Saturday in Chicago.

The Griffins are expected to return defenseman Brian Lashoff (upper body) and forward Colin Campbell (lower body) to the lineup, both of who missed the last two games.

If needed, Game 6 would be in Grand Rapids at 7 p.m. at Van Andel Arena.

Twitter: @tkulfan