Dylan Larkin lifts Wings’ hopes with dawning stardom

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Detroit center Dylan Larkin has 15 goals and 47 assists in 81 games this season.

Detroit — The coaches decided to make the last practice of the season optional Friday.

Dylan Larkin took the ice, and he and Red Wings practice goalie Josh Block were late, and, dripping perspiration, coming back into the room.

Larkin gave him a stick tap on the back of his right leg pad.

The developing young player, who is the Red Wings’ scoring leader, got his shooting repetitions in for the day.

Just as he accelerated his playmaking as his first full NHL season ended last year, a performance that peaked at the World Championship where he dished the puck decisively throughout the tournament, Larkin is enhancing goal scoring toward the end of this season.

And, if he can get some insurance matters straightened out in time, he hopes to play for Team USA in the annual tournament of the International Ice Hockey Federation again, May 4-20.

More: Red Wings playing for ‘pride in winged wheel’ in finale

Larkin is all in.

As he learns more and more about playing in the NHL in the third season of his three-year contract, it is ever more apparent that his intention is to play as well as he can, for as long as he can, for his hometown team.

He plainly desires to be a star.

And that is good, because the Red Wings could use three or four of them, presently.

Larkin’s determination and toil seem to match his yearning.

With six goals in his last nine games, 40 percent of Larkin’s 15 goals have come in an eruption during seven percent of the season. While increasing his team leads in assists (47) and points (62), it is as if he built to a crescendo in finishing a successful 82-game campaign.

The self-evaluation of the 21-year-old from Waterford Township?

Straight from the how-to book for NHL stars.

“Well, it does feel good to score, I guess, here at the end,” he said. “I wish, you know, I would have had a better start.

“It would have been a nice cap to a better all-around season.

“But, you know what? Just building toward next year, and having the confidence that I know I can score in this league.

“When I get hot and I have confidence in myself shooting, it’s having fun and it helps our team.”

On Thursday against the Canadiens, Larkin helped, down by a goal, late in the first period.

More: Wings boost draft status with loss to Canadiens

Taking the puck on a pass from Xavier Ouellet just shy of the Montreal blue line, Larkin could look toward the goalie Antti Niemi, and see four Canadiens in front of him.

But when defenseman Karl Alzner made a lunging move toward Larkin, perhaps attempting to staunch his speed before the blistering-quick forward got going, the great hope of the Red Wings made his move.

He was around Alzner.

And then, as if imitating a goal from Pavel Datsyuk’s highlight reel, he skated through the blizzard of three more white jerseys.

Suddenly, improbably, he skated alone, against Niemi, who he beat.

As they say around hockey, once he pulled a scoring chance out of his hat, like a former magician who played for the Wings, Larkin “made no mistake” while firing it in.

It was some goal.

“That goal is a good sign for us,” Jeff Blashill said after the game.

Though it may not yet have been publicly declared, Dylan Larkin, right, has established himself as part of the leadership group of the Red Wings.

Asked if it amounted to just another goal or something bigger, Larkin accepted it as another event along the way.

“It’s another goal,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to score too many like that where I’m trying to go through everybody and do it on my own.

“You know what? I saw an opening and made a move on the first guy, and saw a lane to the net.

“The positive I think I can take from that is driving the puck to the net and using my speed.”

Others are taking lots of positives from Larkin, and his third season.

“His goal there,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “You don’t see too many players do that.

“He’s strong on the puck and fast, and it’s a nice move to finish it off, too.

“I think Dylan has taken a lot of steps this year, and not just offensively, but defensively, too.

“So, that’s good for our club.”

More: Red Wings’ Frk learning need to shore up defensively

Larkin is not sitting next to Zetterberg, at this juncture, in the dressing room, as young Zetterberg once sat next to Steve Yzerman. But, he might as well be.

Larkin is already part of the leadership group of the Red Wings, though it may not yet have been publicly declared.

This franchise is plainly one troubled about getting ahead of itself. Learning how to be a bigger factor on the power play is going to add to Larkin’s scoring, Blashill said.

“Dylan continues to build his game.

“Up to 60 in points, you know, ultimately, you’d like to see him continue to take steps and become a 70-point guy and an 80-point guy. And now, you’re a star, with the motor that he has. I think it’s a good sign for us.”