Detroit — More than a few fans were a little concerned when Dylan Larkin’s offensive numbers took a step back last season.
Larkin, the Waterford Township native who played at Michigan, burst onto the scene two years ago and was one of the better rookies in the NHL.
Life as an NHL sophomore wasn’t easy last season. Larkin had 32 points, after having 45 his rookie season.
But, as it turns out, it was a valuable experience.
Larkin entered training camp with a determined attitude, wanting a bigger role and responsibility.
Given that opportunity, Larkin, 21, has arguably been the Red Wings’ best all-around player.
Larkin leads the team with 29 points including a team-best 24 assists, plays on both special teams, and is becoming an underrated, young leader on the team.
“He’s so competitive, he wants to make plays,” said coach Jeff Blashill last week, when talking about Larkin’s development. “He wants to be a huge factor in every game. Sometimes that hurts him, (but) he learned how to manage that part of it and there’s also shifts where not much happens.
“You have to be OK with that.”
In a game against the New York Islanders last week, Larkin was matched against Islanders rookie forward Matthew Barzal — a leading contender for Rookie of the Year — and outplayed the highly publicized Barzal with three assists.
“With his (Larkin) competitiveness, he certainly wants to be the best young player in a game like this,” Blashill said. “New York has some good young players, certainly Barzal’s a real good young player, and that’s the stuff that drives Larkin.
“He wants to be the best young player on the ice every night and has big-time competitiveness that way.”
Getting the chance to play extended minutes is something Larkin feels has been a major reason for this season’s development.
“It’s helped a lot, playing a lot, getting the extra minutes on the penalty kill,” Larkin said. “Sometime’s it’s big minutes. It’s definitely helped me with positioning and making reads.
“When you get tired on the penalty kill, you just have to suck it up and man up and stay tight and just get the puck out.
“That’s really helped me.
“When I get tired 5-on-5 I kind of do the same thing. I take a deep breath and take a look around where the guys are and then just try to get the puck out. Don’t do anything fancy.”