The Detroit Red Wings have their hands on a number-one center in Dylan Larkin. In the last few years, he has been an underrated pivot in the league, failing to garner the recognition that fans feel he deserves.
Through the first 27 games of the season, Larkin has 27 points. Broken down that’s 10 goals and 17 assists. He’s on pace for a total of 30 goals and 52 assists this season, for a point-per-game (PPG) pace. Despite this, a few numbers stand out to me as potential concerns that this career year will not be replicated in the future.
Penalty Kill Is Killing Larkin’s Point Potential
Larkin has become an excellent two-way player for the Red Wings. This has resulted in him taking on more short-handed ice time in the past few years. But too much time spent killing penalties can result in your offensive production being hampered. This year alone he has been on the penalty kill for 43.4 percent of the total ice time that the Red Wings have been short-handed (%SH). In the three years previous he has had a %SH of 14.3, 6.9, and 11.2 respectively. Over his entire career his average %SH is 17.2.
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Across the league we see a couple of high-profile players who play a high level of offence and defence. Three players who fit this mold are Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, and Ryan O’Reilly. Looking at all three of their careers, only Kopitar and Bergeron have averaged at least a point per game (PPG) across an entire season once. Their average career %SH has been 35.8 (Bergeron), 33.2 (Kopitar), and 37.5 (O’Reilly). Their corresponding career PPG are 0.81, 0.89, and 0.71 respectively. Larkin’s career PPG is 0.72.
Larkin’s Secondary Assists at All-Time High
Larkin is seeing a spike in secondary assists this season. Ten of his 17 assists have been secondary assists, which comes out to a 58.8 percent secondary assist rate. A secondary assist is the second-to-last person to touch the puck after the goal scorer. It’s much more difficult to get a primary assist but requires more talent than a secondary assist. Luck often plays a huge role in secondary assists, and as this article I link to in my previous sentence argues, secondary assists are much less predictive from year to year than primary assists and goals.
Over the past three years (previous to this one) Larkin’s secondary assist rate was 50%, 21%, and 31%. His actual assists over those same years were 34, 14, 38. He is on pace for 52 this season but has never had more than 47 in his career. He could maintain his secondary assist rate for the rest of the season, but I wouldn’t count on it being this high again.
Deeper Dive Into Larkin’s Point Production
As previously mentioned, Larkin’s career PPG is 0.72. He’s reached 0.75, 0.52, and 0.97 PPG in the three seasons before 2022-23. Before this season he had only gotten close to a PPG pace twice in his career. The first time was in the 2018-19 season when he tallied 73 points in 76 games. The second instance was last season when he produced 69 points in 71 games.
In his eight-year professional hockey playing career, Larkin has never achieved a PPG pace. In the two years that he came close, he had two seasons in between of unflattering production. The fact that he hasn’t achieved this feat yet is the biggest reason I think that if he produces at a PPG pace, he won’t replicate that again.
Bergeron and Larkin are both deployed against the top competition for their respective teams. Their quality of competition (QoC) is the highest amongst forwards on their teams. Quality of competition is the percentage of ice time that the player plays against the opposition’s top two defencemen (for forwards) and top three forwards when calculating for defencemen. This chart’s Y-Axis (placement up and down) has those who face the highest QoC toward the top. The color of that bubble is determined by their Corsi for percentage (CF%) relative to their team. A blue bubble means they are toward the top of their team in CF%. Compared to the rest of his team, Larkin faces the toughest competition and the CF% relative to his team shows that he is one of the best when it comes to getting shot attempts on the opponent’s net.
A similar thing is happening above with Bergeron. He faces the toughest QoC and has the highest CF% relative to the other forwards on his team. Despite this kind of deployment and CF%, Bergeron is only putting up 0.79 PPG this season. A high QoC doesn’t equal bad production, but it does naturally put a cap on your PPG ceiling as you are always facing the opposition’s best defenders.
These numbers show me that Larkin’s defensive responsibilities will hamper his offensive production after this season, however, he could prove me wrong in a few ways.
Optimism for Future Increased Production
Larkin is 26 years old. For all intents and purposes, he is entering the prime playing years of his career. He should see an uptick in production over the next couple of years. At the very least he could maintain the production he has been building over the past three years. Regression and decline typically only happen once a player reaches the 30-32 age range. So he should have at least four years of high-level hockey left.
Over his entire career Larkin has a 9.9 shooting percentage. This season he is at 10.6, which is only 0.7 percent more than his career average. He is also averaging more shots this year with 3.4 shots per game. He has steadily increased his shots per game over the course of his career, and as long as he stays healthy, he should continue to score (or be on pace for) at least 30 goals a year. If he continues to increase his shooting percentage, we could even see him score 40 goals.
There is no denying that Larkin is having a career year. He’s also doing it while having a high defensive workload, with the highest percentage of penalty-killing time he has seen in his career so far. They say “defence wins championships” but it can also negatively impact offense. If this defensive workload maintains or increases over the next few years, this could be the last PPG pace over a season that we see from him.