When the Detroit Red Wings held the 15th overall selection in the 2014 draft (their highest draft pick since the team took Martin Lapointe at 10th overall in 1991), they used their pick to select Dylan Larkin. The team saw his elite skating ability, strong two-way play and hockey IQ, and decided he was worth their first-round selection. Being born in Waterford, Michigan did not hurt his chances, either.
In just one short year, Larkin played for the University of Michigan, USA U-20 World Junior team and the USA at World Championship level. After playing against other professional athletes, Larkin decided to leave the University of Michigan and turn pro. He joined the Grand Rapids Griffins during their playoff run and finished with five points through six games. As Larkin has excelled at each level, the hype surrounding the 19-year-old centerman has grown. It has grown so much, in fact, that it could very well lead to disappointment for some Red Wings fans. While he has played some impressive hockey this preseason, let us not forget that this is Ken Holland’s team. Repeatedly, Holland has proved that having prospects “overripe” when they enter the NHL is for the best.
The Pittsburgh Game
Ahh, yes – the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. You know the one where Larkin blew the socks of just about every Red Wings fan watching. While that stat sheet shows Larkin scoring two goals, his impressive outing was about much more than that. He showed off his elite skating, tenacious backchecking and an uncanny ability to erase his mistakes. Here are Larkin’s goals against the Pens (including his disallowed one):
Yet, as impressive as Larkin looked against the Penguins, Holland did his best to temper the expectations surrounding his prized prospect. In an interview with ESPN’s Craig Custance, Holland said, “It’s preseason. You have to factor in the competition. There’s no [Sidney] Crosby. There’s no [Phil] Kessel,” […] We’re not playing NHL rosters.”
Waiting His Turn
Despite Larkin’s success against the Penguins, it remains that the Red Wings have a logjam of forwards on the team. Depending on your perception, the team has anywhere from 14-18 forwards capable of playing at the NHL level. Sure, Pavel Datsyuk is starting the year on LTIR – it is possible that Darren Helm could, too. That does not change the fact that Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen are fighting tooth and nail to land themselves a spot in the lineup. Each player has looked impressive during the preseason – Pulkkinen leads the team with five points in two games, and Jurco has two points in as many games and leads the team with a +5 rating.
The Red Wings could let Larkin start the year in Detroit, play 10 games and then send him down to Grand Rapids. Alternatively, Larkin can start his season in Grand Rapids, and then get the call from the Red Wings further into the year. At the end of the day, Holland wants what is best for Larkin:
“There’s a lot of different paths that Dylan Larkin can take over the 2015-16 season,” Holland said. “He has the potential to be a real important player for the Detroit Red Wings going forward. We need to do what we think is right for Dylan so that those things come to fruition.”
Larkin is good now. He does not look out-of-place skating against NHL-calibre players. That does not necessarily mean that he has to play at the NHL level right away. In one year, the Red Wings will likely have more space at center, with Brad Richards moving on. Perhaps by that time, after excelling in Grand Rapids for a full season, Larkin will be great.