Detroit — The bottom line, more than anything, is Dylan Larkin wants to play hockey.
Larkin was saying last month, as the Red Wings were departing for the summer, how bored he was just several days after the regular season ended.
So, when the opportunity to play for Team USA and Wings coach Jeff Blashill — who is coaching the national team for the second consecutive year — arose, Larkin jumped at it.
“Playing into May is what it’s all about,” said Larkin, who added he didn’t want to get “complacent” with finishing his hockey season in April. “I just think I’m young, I have a lot of energy, a lot of passion, so I want to keep playing.”
Some of the success Larkin had this season was in part due to his play in last year’s tournament, and the time he spent with Blashill in Cologne, Germany.
As Team USA begins its tournament today against Canada (10:15 a.m./NHL Network), Larkin’s development year-to-year is evident.
Blashill named Larkin an alternate captain, and Larkin is centering the No. 1 line between Chicago’s Patrick Kane and the New York Islanders’ Anders Lee.
Larkin scored the eventual game-winning goal in Tuesday’s 3-2 exhibition victory over host Denmark.
“I want to win,” said Larkin, adding the sudden and unexpected death of Jim Johannsson, a popular USA Hockey executive, has added motivation to everyone around the program. “I want to keep playing, and with the passing of Jim Johannsson and the efforts we’ve seen from USA Hockey, we want to go over there and win.”
Larkin, 22, was one of Team USA’s best players in 2017, helping the team to the quarterfinals (USA was 6-2-0 in round-robin play), while his 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) trailed only Johnny Gaudreau on the national team. Larkin had a plus-8 plus-minus rating, with his confidence at an all-time high.
And it was during the tournament that Blashill began using Larkin in every situation, taking key face-offs and building a trust that carried into the regular season.
“It was good for us and built a lot of trust,” Larkin said. “I played in all situations. I hope I can have that same impact this year and our trust grows even more.”
Blashill felt the tournament was a significant factor in Larkin’s growth.
“Dylan’s going to be a big part of our team, and just building that time together last year was probably the first year where Dylan got to really be a go-to guy with me,” Blashill said. “Maybe a little that year in the Calder Cup (2013 in Grand Rapids) when he came out of Michigan, but last year was certainly the first time.
“I mean a real go-to guy up the middle and we can just build upon that. He’s been in that moment a lot this year, he’s been a go-to guy for us (the Wings) a lot.
“Hopefully this can continue to build upon our relationship.”
The fact Larkin wanted more responsibility and was so self-accountable throughout this season was a good sign for Blashill.
“Anytime you get to put the team on your shoulders and you win or lose, it can help you,” Blashill said. “It can really help you either way. If you lose, you can learn from it and if you win, it gives you confidence that you can put the team on your shoulders and win.”
This year’s tournament has quite a few impact players in it, with Canada getting commitments from Connor McDavid, Mathew Barzal, Aaron Ekblad, Russia from goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, and Sweden from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Although the NHL playoffs are the top prize, what every coach and player want to compete in at this time of year, the world championships, are a close second.
“It’s an unreal tournament and you get to stay in a real competitive environment for another month,” Blashill said. “It was an unbelievable experience (last year), certainly not as good as being in the playoffs, but it’s second to that.”
Larkin is banking on having another successful May with Team USA, including earning a medal and then carrying over that feeling into Wings’ training camp in September.
“Moving forward in my career, the next step is becoming a winner,” Larkin said. “When we get into games late, to have that extra factor where I take my game to another level to either hold onto a lead or try to get that goal to tie it up or win.”
IIHF men’s world championships
When: Friday through May 20
Where: Copenhagen and Herning, Denmark
TV: NHL Network will televise all Team USA’s games, beginning today, 10 a.m., against Canada.
Local touch:Team USA: coach Jeff Blashill (Red Wings), Dylan Larkin (Red Wings), Nick Jensen (Red Wings), Quinn Hughes (Michigan), Alex DeBrincat (Farmington Hills/Chicago Blackhawks), Alec Martinez (Rochester Hills/L.A. Kings), Jordan Oesterle (Dearborn Heights/Chicago Blackhawks). Denmark: Frans Nielsen (Red Wings). Sweden: Gustav Nyquist (Red Wings). Czech Republic: Marin Frk (Red Wings), Filip Hronek and Libor Sulak (Grand Rapids Griffins).