Red Wings’ Larkin Proves to Be a “True Captain” During Lalonde Transition

Two weeks ago, Detroit Red Wings forward Jakub Vrana was a guest on Sportsnet’s “32 Thoughts Podcast” with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. Almost eight minutes in, Marek led his next question simply with, “Dylan Larkin.”

Like a reflex, Vrana instantly smiled at the mention of the Red Wings’ captain.

“He’s a great captain,” Vrana began. “He’s really supportive, and I think the best thing about him – whatever happens on the ice, it happens on the ice. He wants to take care of the guys, you know? Off the ice and on the ice, he wants everybody to be healthy and happy.”

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That’s glowing praise coming from a player who came from a team that Alex Ovechkin wears the captain’s ‘C’ for.

Following his first day of training camp as the head coach of the Red Wings, Derek Lalonde sang a similar tune when he spoke to the media. He spoke highly of Larkin, comparing Detroit’s captain to the captain of the team he previously coached.

“We have a true captain,” Lalonde stated. “We had a true captain in Tampa in Steven Stamkos, and I say that because if you look around at the 32 teams, everyone has a captain, but it takes time to have that ‘true’ captain. I think we have one. Everyone sees him as our true captain. Now we can build that leadership group around him.”

Related: 3 Biggest Challenges Facing Red Wings Head Coach Derek Lalonde

After listening to the Red Wings’ coach and their captain speak after the first day of training camp, it’s clear that the partnership between Larkin and Lalonde will be one of the biggest keys as the team learns and adapts to their new bench boss.

Larkin Embodies Lalonde’s Vision

When Lalonde was asked about what strengths the Red Wings have, he answered by saying that the team’s speed and skating is something that the team could form an identity around. Perhaps no player on the current roster better exemplifies that identity than Larkin, whose skating has been a benchmark of his scouting report since even before he set a new record at the Fastest Skater competition at the 2016 All-Star Skills Competition.

“We want to try to play fast and take advantage of that ability…to skate,” Lalonde said.

Since setting that record in 2016, Larkin has developed immensely, both as a player and as a human being. On the ice, he is just as capable of leading an odd-man rush and feeding an open teammate as he is putting the puck in on an individual effort. Though nobody would ever confuse Larkin with Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, the Red Wings’ captain possesses the ability to make high-IQ plays at top speed just like Oilers’ captain.

When you think of Larkin, you usually think of him in motion. Lalonde’s goal this season is to make sure that applies to every one of Larkin’s teammates as well.

Larkin Is Trusted by Team & Red Wings Staff

Of course, it’s not just Vrana and Lalonde singing Larkin’s praises. When Andrew Copp signed with the Red Wings, he was asked about whether or not he had spoken to Larkin yet. Just like Vrana, a smile formed across his face as he let out a small laugh.

“He always kind of hinted at getting me to come back home,” Copp said. “Both of us are really excited for where this team [is] headed. It’s kind of funny just being his captain [with the University of Michigan] and now he’ll be mine in Detroit.”

But perhaps the most important person to speak glowingly about Larkin is the man tasked with signing the 26-year-old center to a new contract before next summer: general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman.

“I lean on Dylan a lot,” Yzerman said. “I think [Lalonde is] going to lean on him a lot just [to] get a sense of different situations both on and off the ice from these players’ perspective. I think he’s just getting more and more comfortable with the role.

I do really think he cares about his teammates. He cares about the team.”

Dylan Larkin Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

Clearly Larkin has made a believer out of virtually everyone in the organization. His teammates can’t help but to smile when they hear his name. His new head coach envisions the Red Wings adopting an identity that mirrors his play style. And his GM is actively working to get him signed to a long-term extension, keeping the Michigan-native with the only team he’s ever known.

“I don’t see myself playing anywhere else,” Larkin said when asked about the ongoing contract negotiations, reaffirming his commitment to a team and organization that is equally committed to him.

Related: Projecting Dylan Larkin’s New Red Wings Contract

And why wouldn’t he be? Larkin is now the longest-tenured member of the Red Wings. He is the last remaining link to the days of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Larkin’s five games of playoff experience came from the 2016 playoffs, the last time the Red Wings reached the postseason. He has endured a rebuild that is now entering its seventh season. Across that span of time, Detroit has replaced their GM, their head coach, and literally dozens of players. Through all of that turnover, he has remained the constant. If there’s anybody on this year’s Red Wings team that wants the playoff drought to end, it’s him. That’s why Lalonde noted how important it is that Larkin is on the same page as the coaching staff.

“When you have a true captain, he needs to be THE first person on board,” Lalonde said. “He wants team success and he’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing here, especially early on.”

At a time where change reigns supreme in Hockeytown, having players that can rally the troops and get everyone on the same page is invaluable, especially for a first-time NHL head coach. If Lalonde’s comments about a “true captain” and Copp and Vrana’s smiles are any indication, then that is exactly what the Red Wings have in Dylan Larkin.

In the words of Vrana, “he’s a leader, you know? He wants us to be where we should be because he knows we have the potential.”

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