One of the most uniting things in the game of hockey is when the “eye test” camp and the “fancy stats” camp can agree. Through the first six games of the Detroit Red Wings’ season, the player that unites these two lines of thinking is their newly-named captain, center Dylan Larkin.
This isn’t new, though. After all, there’s a reason why fans and pundits from around the league were anointing Larkin as the team’s captain well before it was made official. Through five seasons and six games of his sixth, he has always displayed the ability and desire to place this team on his back and carry them forward. There is sometimes a debate about who the team’s top forward is, but the answer always seems to come back to Larkin.
So, with the Red Wings now 2-4 to start the 2020-21 season, it shouldn’t surprise many that Larkin is at it again, playing a big role in the success that his team has had this season. While the results, once again, don’t seem to be there this season, this is a player that continues to do everything he can to make this team competitive in the Central Division.
Look up and down Larkin’s stat sheet and you’ll find promising numbers everywhere. It starts with winning 54.3% of his face-offs, and it goes on from there.
Larkin has had a positive impact almost every time he’s been on the ice. Only one player (defenseman Patrik Nemeth) has had more ice-time than him, and nobody has created more offensive chances than him. That’s not to say that he’s been completely dominant on the ice – among Red Wing forwards, he’s allowed the most offensive chances against – and some of his errors in the defensive end have directly resulted in a goal-against. But with a Corsi-percentage of 54.8%, the puck is generally headed the right direction with him on the ice.
Furthermore, Larkin leads the Red Wings with a point per-game pace of six points through six games. It’s still early, but this is the kind of scoring pace that you want to see from your top center. You silence a lot of critics by producing, and nobody is producing for the Wings quite like Larkin is.
Larkin and winger Tyler Bertuzzi have arguably been the team’s top offensive duo this season. The former has assisted on two of the latter’s three goals, including the game-winner against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
But the goal that really demonstrates the chemistry between these two, as well as Larkin’s overall vision on the ice, is this goal on the power play against the Chicago Blackhawks:
Larkin has stated before that he takes pride in creating these types of plays/goals. When he’s on his game, he creates opportunities for anyone and everyone on his line, like he has so far with Bertuzzi. When he’s REALLY on his game, however, he can create opportunities for himself, sometimes in highlight-fashion.
Make no mistake: Larkin hasn’t been perfect through six games – he would probably be the first to tell you that. But what is undeniable is that is seems like every time that he’s on the ice, something is happening. It’s that kind of high-event impact that people tune-in to watch.
One of the most gut-wrenching things to watch last season was Larkin answering for his team’s ineptitude after almost every game last season. While this season’s team has already seen better results in terms of competitiveness, their record still speaks for itself. With those struggles comes the burden of answering questions about the team’s overall effort, the power play and anything else that has presented a problem for the Red Wings. To his credit, Larkin has handled this responsibility well.
“I really liked how we got better as the game went on,” Larkin said following the team’s first game of the season, a shutout at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.
“I thought we improved everywhere, obviously. We played a great team game. I thought we managed the puck a lot better,” he said after his team defeated those same Hurricanes two days later.
Larkin fought against Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski, a long-time friend of his whose family he left tickets for ahead of the game on Jan. 18. The next game, he banked the puck off of Bertuzzi for the previously mentioned game-winner.
“We had an opportunity here against a team we thought we could beat twice and we didn’t show up,” he concluded after the Red Wings lost both games of their opening series against the Blackhawks.
Through his words and his actions, Larkin has set the tone for this Red Wings team. Before the season began, he addressed last season by saying, “what happened (last season) doesn’t happen again on our watch. It stops now.” This is a player that is proud of being a Red Wing, and he takes it personally when this team fails to compete. It’s that ownership and drive to propel his team that should leave little doubt as to why he is this team’s captain.
The truth of the matter is that the Red Wings are still a rebuilding team that shouldn’t sniff the playoffs this season. Just don’t tell that to Larkin. As far as he’s concerned, this team has the potential to compete with the best in the NHL, and it’s just a matter of bringing it every single night. No matter how based in reality that thought is (or isn’t), that’s the kind of mentality you want from a team’s leader and top forward.
With some of the team’s top players experiencing early season struggles, it will fall on Larkin to do what he can do and answer for what his teammates can’t do. It may seem unfair, but it’s the nature of leading a team like this. Instead of pointing fingers, Detroit’s top center looks inward and embraces the challenge of bringing out the best in his teammates. He wants “Hockeytown” to be as proud of its team as he is to captain it.
Unfortunately, some people may have already given up on the Red Wings’ 2020-21 season. Not No. 71. For him, the best is yet to come.
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I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.