Dylan Larkin Strong In First NHL Weekend


That’s how far 2014 first round pick Dylan Larkin is into his young NHL career. After making the team out of camp, the journey officially began with one of the biggest ovations of the opening ceremonies Friday night in Detroit. Just a hometown kid playing with his childhood heroes living the dream in front of his family.

But he wasn’t just playing bottom six minutes.

He was on the captain Henrik Zetterberg’s top line wing with signs in the crowd in bold letters proudly printing “LARKIN: Born to be a Red Wing” and “LARKIN is the future.” Scary stuff for a guy who was a freshman playing college hockey just eight months before. His first NHL game also would entail the first battle of many between head coaches Jeff Blashill and Mike Babcock, with the latter returning to Detroit after departing for Toronto in May and with Blashill coaching his first NHL contest.

After Justin Abdelkader put the Red Wings ahead less than two minutes into the game, Larkin seemed to settle in after having a nervous first couple of shifts.

“You’re just trying to focus not to fall. First shift, I tied my skates too tight. My toes, weren’t really feeling them. After that I kind of settled in and felt pretty comfortable.”
-Dylan Larkin

Catching a pass from the captain and showing off his speed through the neutral zone, the 19-year old showed off his puck control.

Showing off those college kid wheels, Larkin had a goal and an assist a period and change into his NHL career. He would finish with the two points, a +3 rating, and six(!) shots in 13:42 of ice time in a debut that Larkin struggled to put into words himself.

“I was named onto the opening night roster…From there it was excitement. [With] my family coming to town, it was a lot, but to win 4-0 and score my first goal? I couldn’t have it any better.”

For Larkin and his team, however, there was not much time to celebrate. There was a game to be played in Carolina the next night, a first real taste of the professional life for the kid in the form of traveling with the team. Getting to the hotel at 3:00 am and having to play hockey the next night after playing a full game the night before is certainly a wake-up call.

In the midst of getting outshot 30-5 through the first half of the game, the combination of Larkin and Zetterberg helped to ensure that the sixth shot put on the board by the Red Wings would truly count.

Not many 19-year olds coming into the League can skate full speed into the zone and deliver a lead pass as simple and effective as the one Larkin dished to Zetterberg on the half wall to make the play happen. As most of the team did, Larkin showed some signs of fatigue, as there were turnovers and struggle with puck control at times.

However, with the Wings down 2-1 Blashill decided to put the Waterford native with Tomas Tatar and Teemu Pulkkinen, a move that paid huge dividends. The line would score the next two goals, with Pulkkinen getting both to put the Wings ahead. The speed of Larkin, skill of Tatar, and scoring ability of the back-to-back AHL 30-goal scorer seemed to complement each other nicely, and it showed on the shot clock. The Wings fired 11 shots to the goal in the third period, three more than they had in the entire game up to that point.

The away team would come away victorious 4-3, with Larkin adding to his totals from the night before tallying one assist, four shots, and another +3 in an increased 15:22 of ice time. He did take his first penalty on a lazy high stick, but the Wings’ penalty kill bailed him out like they did the team for the better part of the game.

All told, Mr. Larkin leads the team in shot attempt ratio with a +6 and is tied for 2nd in SAT-for with 12 to his one time linemate Zetterberg. He’s tallied a goal and two assists in his first couple games, with his speed, creativity, and patience impressing.

“He didn’t make the team because he played good in preseason. The preseason for me was the final evaluation test that he passed. He was a Big Ten rookie of the year. … played in the world juniors, then the world championships.”
-Red Wings GM Ken Holland

“He’s such a good player, he proved every bit as good. He’s a great player. For a teenager to make the opening day roster, it’s out of the norm.”
-Justin Abdelkader

It will be interesting to see where both line up against Tampa Bay or if the switch made in the third period will stay in effect. It is a very small sample size for #71, and the first two opponents the Wings have faced are not what one would call contenders. But, a good test is coming on Tuesday in the form of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A test the 19-year old will certainly be up for after a weekend to remember.

Main Photo:

Quote courtesy of Detroit Free Press
.gifs made via Giphy and YT user @awood40
stats courtesy of NHL.com and ESPN