As the sun came up on July 4th the small and quaint town of Traverse City, Michigan filled with tourists on vacation, folks coming to see the Blue Angels, partake in Cherry Festival, drink fancy beer, and... Watch hockey? Indeed! I have the pleasure of attending this year's Development Camp for Red Wings prospects, and have had the chance to get into the locker room to have a word with most of the players.
One of the biggest, most glaring standouts in the locker room? 2014 15th overall pick Dylan Larkin and 2013 20th overall pick Anthony Mantha's stalls are right next to one another. It all makes sense really, Detroit is searching for a center that will be the centerpiece around their blue-chip future scoring winger, and it's quite obvious.. After acquiring six different centers from all over the map this offseason. Why not start with Larkin?
After watching Larkin on the first day, I can tell you this much: He might be one of the best skaters in the entire camp, next to Andreas Athanasiou. The way he strides is almost poetic, the first three strides are most important, and it shows. His skates move like a warm knife through butter, and his hand-eye coordination is right there with it. He rarely overskates the puck, and if he does lose control, he shows the dexterity and concentration to regain possession.
Anthony Mantha, who isn't known for his skating as much, could be a great fit for Larkin. Larkin, who has the ceiling to be an elite-skating setup center that can breakout and draw attention as Mantha strides in to cleanup the job. It's almost like Blashill might know what he's doing here.. Which makes sense, he's a pretty smart guy after-all.
After day two's morning skate, I spoke with Mantha:
(About playing with Larkin)
It feels great, honestly.. To have a new partner. The chemistry is going to come out a bit more during the scrimmage, I think. But it was even much better this morning than it was yesterday at the first practice, so I think that is good. He's a great player and it's very exciting to play with him.
(On what he would like to work on during this summer)
Training is huge, obviously. I'd like to put on a bit more weight. Working on how I play in the defensive zone is a huge focus for me and the coaches.. They'd like me to be an "every-dayer." They tell us that every year, and that's what I worked on last year.. I think it's going well so far.
I had a chance to speak with Dylan Larkin yesterday as well.. I was pleasantly surprised how well he took questions. You'd never guess that he's a 17 year old kid who was just drafted not long ago. Obviously having the second biggest media scrum around him, next to Mantha.
Dylan Larkin feeding the press. Great interviewer already. pic.twitter.com/KDUNdRSAsY— Kyle (@KyleWIIM) July 4, 2014
(On his first day as a Red Wing)
It's been really cool. Just walking into the room, and seeing your name on a locker with the logo next to it.. Then getting the jersey. Pretty surreal to me. This is a great group of guys, and I was excited for the intensity of the first practice. The team is so attention-to-detail, and that's great. It really forces you to play a better mental game.
(On playing with Mantha)
It's great. He's an awesome player, with a huge frame.. We were playing in pretty tight. He protects the puck well, and you can definitely see why he was a first round pick and why he's so important. I'm excited to be working with him.
One of the most standout quotes from Larkin, for me, was when I asked him how he felt about being a kid from Michigan, playing for one of Michigan's best hockey collegiate programs, and finally being drafted by the Detroit Red Wings:
I really hope that I set a good path for kids coming up and playing hockey in Detroit. That's one thing I'm kinda setting myself to do, above all else. I think it's really important for hockey in this city.
Larkin and Mantha have both been part of the captain squad on their respective teams, and it shows. They show manners of leadership, on and off the ice. I think putting them together is a great test for both of them. Obviously both of their paths are completely different.. Mantha will push for a spot with the Red Wings, and Larkin will take on an impact role with the University of Michigan as a freshman, and will remain there at least until his junior year. Dylan turns 18 at the end of this month, and Anthony will be 20 in September. They're not too far off in age, so by the time Larkin is ready for the big stage, they could both likely be entering their prime.