Larkin taking cues from Zetterberg in switch to center
Traverse City — He’s been with him for two years, as long as Dylan Larkin has been in the league.
Larkin has been a teammate of Henrik Zetterberg’s, a player Larkin grew up watching and attempting to emulate.
Now in his third season in the NHL, moving to center to what appears to be a full-time basis, what Larkin has learned from Zetterberg, the Red Wings’ captain and best all-around player the last two seasons, will be put to the test on a nightly basis.
“He dominates every time he’s on the ice,” said Larkin, after one of the recent practice sessions at Centre Ice Arena. “What’s so special about him, and something I’ve really tried to focus on, and it’s hard to do, is he slows the game down to his speed.
“He’s so subtle.”
Zetterberg has never been blessed with superior speed, but is able to slow the game down to a speed he wants when the puck is on his stick.
Larkin — who is centering Anthony Mantha and Justin Abdelkader the first few practices in training camp — is in the process of learning the same method.
“He’s always in the right position, he doesn’t fly up the ice,” Larkin said. “There are times I could use my speed and there’s times where I could learn from him (Zetterberg). Just how he protects the puck for a second, then finds some ice for himself.”
Coach Jeff Blashill was intent on playing Larkin at center to start last season.
But the experiment ended after several games when Larkin looked uncomfortable and wasn’t overly productive.
Blashill moved Larkin back to center roughly the final quarter of last season, approximately 25 games, and Larkin ended the season on a more memorable note, giving the Red Wings considerable promise heading into this season.
There are areas in Larkin’s game that Blashill believes Larkin has to show progress and control to be successful.
“Any center has to win faceoffs,” said Blashill, a statistic Larkin failed to reach 50 percent (45.5 percent). “He’s really worked hard at it. He was great in the world championships on faceoffs. But to play center on a consistent basis, you have to win faceoffs.
“His defensive instincts are real good. He knows to anticipate where the puck is going. The center in our defensive zone coverage is loose (given freedom) to make those anticipations and reads. Pavel Datsyuk was a guy that was real good at those types of things. Zetterberg is real good at it.
“Larkin can be real good at that.”
Blashill, the Team USA head coach at the world championships in May, put Larkin on the roster and relied on the young player heavily (Larkin had 10 points in eight games).
“It helped a ton,” said Larkin, of his world championship experience, where he had eight assists. “Playing for Blash, playing our systems, it was an opportunity to be the second-line center, one of the go-to guys, playing in all situations.
“It was huge for my confidence and it was huge gaining some of Blash’s trust there and playing well.”
Larkin’s ability to find teammates, set them up for quality scoring chances, is an area he has developed, Blashill said.
“Over the course of the last couple years, he (Larkin) has really continued to develop a give-and-go game, changing his speed and making sure that there’s give-and-go with players that he is with,” Blashill said. “He has the ability to make passes. When you are a big time skater, sometimes you just get it and go yourself.
“But the more he learns to continue to use those changes of speeds and has a good give-and-go game, it’ll allow him to be an elite center.”