There are few certainties in the hockey world, but one of them used to be that the Detroit Red Wings didn't bring teenagers into the NHL. In fact, it's been about 15 years since Jiri Fischer pulled the trick, as Chris Peters discovered. But Detroit coach Jeff Blashill confirmed on Monday that Larkin made the final cut for the Wings, so now it's on to the next challenge for the kid: sticking with the squad full-time.
Larkin, who was drafted 15th overall out of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program in 2014, can go to the American League even though he's still a teenager. But thanks to his showing at Detroit's training camp, the talented and driven center will be kicking off 2015-16 in the NHL.
“He’s a two-way, 200-foot player," said Detroit GM Ken Holland. "He has a lot of will, a lot of determination and he’s got a big motor.”
Larkin was the Big Ten's rookie of the year last season, posting up 47 points in 35 games for the University of Michigan. A state native who relished the chance to play in Ann Arbor, the young center admitted that it wasn't an easy decision to leave the Wolverines after just one season.
“That was a whole experience itself," Larkin said. "I thought I had a pretty good World Championship and after skating with those guys, I knew I wanted to be a pro.”
Having seen Larkin play so well at the world juniors, Team USA's brass invited the Michigan standout to play for the men's World Championship squad in the Czech Republic months later. Larkin played a checking role on a team that featured other young stars such as Jack Eichel, Seth Jones and Connor Hellebuyck (not to mention veterans such as Trevor Lewis and Matt Hendricks). That American squad was a surprise bronze medal winner, shutting out Jakub Voracek, Jaromir Jagr and the host Czechs 3-0 in their final game. For Holland, it was a tipping point: his shiny prospect proved he could thrive in any role on the ice.
“I told Dylan and his parents that whatever decision he made, we were good with," he said. "He’s a unique player for me in that he can play top-six or bottom-six. He’s going to be able to do lots of things that can be used by the coach.”
Watching Larkin live at Detroit's Traverse City prospects tournament, it was clear to me that the young center has the chance to be a special NHLer. He thinks the game at a high level and when his team needed a lift, that famed motor that Holland mentioned went into overdrive.
The fact he is still 19 opens up a realm of possibilities around Larkin – not only in terms of what he'll do locally this season, but also internationally. Perhaps lost in the Red Wings roster news is the fact that Larkin is still eligible to play for Team USA's world junior entry this winter in Finland. He was one of America's best players last season in Montreal, though the U.S. fell flat against Russia in the quarterfinal, leading to a disappointing finish.
For Larkin's new boss, the equation is simple:
“If Dylan’s in the NHL and he’s playing regularly and is important for us, he will not be available," Holland said. "If he’s in the American League, we’ll make him available.”
In the meantime, Larkin will be getting used to a world in which Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall are no longer guys he sees through a TV screen.
“Ever since I can remember watching the NHL, they've been playing," he said. "But it’s not as intimidating now that I know them a little bit. I’m excited to learn more from them.”
And while Michigan won't give him course credit for his work at Joe Louis Arena, Larkin will begin the year in one of hockey's legendary institutes of higher learning.