Red Wings' Dylan Larkin feels 'pretty lucky' after late-season neck injury

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dylan Larkin is recovering, getting better and is optimistic he’ll be ready for September’s start of training camp.

But Larkin also feels a little lucky.

The neck injury he suffered after being crosschecked in the back of the neck by Dallas forward Jamie Benn on April 20 could have been much worse than it was.

“Any time you’re dealing with the neck, it’s a little scary,” Larkin said Wednesday during an end-of-season Zoom call. “I always believed I was going to be OK. It’s something minor that needs time to heal and that’s all you can ask for. I’m just resting and trying to do the right things so I can be ready to train here soon.

“I really do believe I got pretty lucky.”

Larkin doesn’t need surgery but did spend “a couple” nights in a hospital early on, and he has been mainly resting at home since the injury occurred.

“That wasn’t fun. Came back home and I was on the couch,” Larkin said. “It was part of the game, part of what we do and what we sign up for. I’m just taking it day by day and I feel a lot better after the first couple of weeks. Moving around and feeling a lot better.

Dylan Larkin had 23 points in 44 games before his season was cut short due to injury.

“I don’t have to have surgery. I just have to rest and let it heal and I’ll be ready to go for next season."

Larkin should begin training by mid-June and is expecting to use his golf clubs by the end of the summer.

“I believe in what the doctors are telling me and I believe in the plan,” he said. “Right now the most important things are resting and letting it heal.

“I will be ready for the start of the (next) season.”

Larkin called the incident where he was injured “an unfortunate play," but doesn’t hold any hard feelings toward Benn.

“It’s in the past now,” Larkin said. “I was upset when it happened. Obviously I was pretty hurt. You could call it a hockey play, but I don’t really ever see a time in a game when I wanted to crosscheck someone when they’re down.

“I’m not disappointed or anything. I just have to be careful and use it as a learning experience. You have to protect yourself, even on faceoffs and different parts of the game.”

Larkin was pleased with the progress of the Wings' lineup this season and believes the organization is headed in the right direction toward the future.

But, personally, Larkin wasn't entirely satisfied.

Playing in 44 games, Larkin had nine goals and 14 assists. Larkin led all Wings' forwards in scoring but he was headed toward his lowest point total since his second NHL season in 2016-17, when he finished with 32 points.

Larkin said Wednesday he played through "a lot of injuries," but also pointed to the loss of linemate and friend Tyler Bertuzzi (back surgery), who didn't play after Feb. 1.

"Losing Tyler earlier in the season, someone I count on when things aren’t going well personally, and you don’t have confidence, he plays a simple game and it’s huge to have him as a linemate," Larkin said.

General manager Steve Yzerman said Tuesday during his end-of-season media conference — while also announcing the return of coach Jeff Blashill — that Larkin created many offensive chances but simply missed on those opportunities.

"Generating scoring chances, creating scoring chances for his linemates, he did an excellent job,” Yzerman said. "He missed a lot of chances. This year, playing so many games in a row, if you get on a roll, things are great. But if you don’t get on a roll, you’re trying to catch up. He never had that pause to get a few days of practice to regroup and kind of find it a little bit.

“Overall, Dylan had a good year. I don’t think there’s anyone who would ever question his work ethic, his competitiveness in any game. I would never come home from a game thinking, ‘Dylan didn’t bring it tonight.'

“Ultimately, I see Dylan Larkin as an outstanding two-way player. I don’t think we need him to lead the league in scoring. Whatever the goal totals turn out to be, they’ll be good enough for me. My goal for him — and him and I have talked about it — is to strive to be one of the best two-way players in the game."

Two other items Larkin touched on Wednesday:

► He was pleased to see Blashill return as the Wings’ head coach.

“Blash has earned that,” Larkin said. “He’s prepared and he’s held guys accountable. He cares about us and cares about steering our franchise in the right direction.

“We talked a lot about that, we’ve had a lot of conversations about whether it’s our team or my game, and he’s helped me a lot.”

► Larkin believes the Wings took another step forward this season and are closer to becoming a playoff team.

“I do,” said Larkin, who hasn't competed in the playoffs since his 2015-16 rookie season. “It’s so hard to tell, there’s so much parity in the league. I’ve been on one playoff team in my first season and I really believe the difference in that season was we found ways to win in those close games, whether it was luck or us outplaying (the other team). We had a lot of veteran guys that have been there and know how to play in those games.

“The last couple of years, we just haven’t had enough in those close games and at some point here, it’s going to turn. We’ve all been through it and we’ve learned.”

Twitter: @tkulfan