What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. This week Tony Wolak, Devin Little, Patrick Brown, and Kyle Knopp are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
When Dylan Larkin was named captain of the Red Wings on Jan. 13, it was long overdue. Detroit’s young center had essentially filled the role after Henrik Zetterberg retired two years earlier.
In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team evaluates Larkin’s first year as captain. Did he live up to expectations – or is there still work to be done?
Tony Wolak: Less is More
On the ice, Larkin did not have the season he wanted. Devin will bring you the statistics in a minute. But anecdotally, Larkin tried to do too much when he had the puck, which often resulted in him taking the puck wide, waiting, and eventually giving up the puck as a result of being pinned up against the boards and/or dumped without a call. The frustration was evident.
Clearly, Larkin was the driver for his line. But he needs to use his teammates more often – he can’t win games alone. Having a healthy lineup and consistent linemates next season will help. Larkin will be more dangerous if he can use his vision to find open teammates and then find open space for himself after – rather than trying to do everything himself offensively.
That’s just the offensive aspect of his game, though. In the defensive zone, backchecking, off the ice, and in the community, he’s the perfect captain. Larkin’s hustle and determination are traits you want others to adopt. In that regard, Larkin was everything you’d want for someone sporting the ‘C’ in Hockeytown.
Devin Little: Two Sides of the Coin
Let’s start with Larkin’s on-ice performance. In the case of faceoff percentage (49.5), points per game (.52), Corsi-For% (48.6 at all strengths) and relative Corsi (plus-2.7 percent) as well as a few other stats, this was his worst season since his sophomore campaign back during the 2016-17 season – which also happened to be the first season he exclusively played center in the NHL. If you subscribe to the notion that numbers don’t lie, then the Red Wings’ captain struggled mightily this season.
But wearing the ‘C’ doesn’t solely come down to a player’s stat line, does it? While I’m sure even Larkin would say he would have liked to have seen a bit more production, it’s his role off the ice that took a big step forward this season. Even though he was no stranger to facing tough questions after poor efforts from his team, he had nowhere to hide this year in his first season as captain.
In the days leading up to this season, he stated, “let’s make sure to put the work in and make sure what happened (last season) doesn’t happen again on our watch. It stops now.” With the Red Wings performing way better than they did last season, I think it’s fair to say that Larkin kept his promise, even though the points weren’t there for him this season. Being the captain of a rebuilding team can’t be easy, but Detroit’s young captain seems to embrace the challenge and is eager to help bring success back to Hockeytown. I have full confidence that he will accomplish that goal as well.
Patrick Brown: Simply the Best
I can confidently say that this team would not have even sniffed last year’s win total if anyone other than Larkin was captain. Even after getting sidelined for the season because of a cheap shot from Jamie Benn, he remains tied for the team lead in points (as of Saturday night) – pretty remarkable, all things considered.
When the team needed a spark, No. 71 would lead the way, weaving through the neutral zone before finding space and creating an opportunity for a teammate to score. Detroit consistently rebounded after ugly losses (see: Nashville, 7-1, TWICE), and that all starts with Yzerman’s chosen one.
I try not to gush often, but to be honest, there’s not one thing more I’d have expected from Larkin this season. None of his numbers jump off the page, but they were more consistent than almost anyone else on the team. Get well soon, Dylan – looking forward to seeing you back in the ‘C’ next season.
Kyle Knopp: More Than Statistics
I will be honest, I was in the camp that wasn’t sold on Larkin being the next captain for the Wings. Call it a bias if you want but it was the same feeling I had when Jimmy Howard became the starting goalie – this guy will never win the Wings a Stanley Cup.
However, I will be the first to admit I was wrong about Larkin having what it takes to wear the ‘C’ for the Wings.
Larkin has done a terrific job of showing the intangibles that it takes to be the leader of this team. He leads by example and is the first to shoulder the blame when things are going wrong. Sure, his production totals were down from last season but Larkin shows up to the rink everyday, ready to compete.
When the expectations surrounding a team are low, it can often become ingrained within the culture of that organization. Larkin has shown that he won’t let that happen, leading the Wings back into the win column after embarrassing losses. Will Larkin be the one to lead the Wings back into a deep playoff run? While it might be a while for that to become a reality, Larkin is the right captain to lead the Wings through this rebuild.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.