It seems like I have had something new to say about this kid every week throughout the season. When the Red Wings took Dylan Larkin at 15th overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft last June, I knew we had a good player in him. I figured Larkin to be a great candidate as a bottom-six ace, who could provide speed, physicality, two-way senses, and strong work ethic. A true homegrown talent, who has a great deal of potential to one day don a letter on the left side of his chest. Before the summer of 2014, it was clear that Anthony Mantha was the most illustrious prospect in the system. After scoring a heap of goals in his final season of junior-level hockey, he had fans simply chomping at the bit...
There's a good chance that if you asked a handful of die-hard fans before the draft if the player they would end up taking first overall in 2014 would have a season that lifts him over Mantha in terms of prospect rating, I'm pretty sure you would have gotten a round of laughs thrown your way. Well, it happened. Dylan Larkin might be the most valuable prospect in the entire system right now, and it's well-deserved. As a freshman with the University of Michigan, Larkin finished his season second among freshmen in scoring, right behind the Boston University bad-boy, and top 2015 NHL Draft prospect, Jack Eichel. Here's a quick look at the top-five freshmen in the entire country:
|Jack Eichel||Boston University||36||24||42||66||1.83||46||151||0.512|
|Dylan Larkin (DET)||Michigan||35||15||32||47||1.34||18||151||0.538|
|Danton Heinen (BOS)||Denver||38||16||29||45||1.18||19||82||0.546|
|C.J. Smith||UMass Lowell||39||16||19||35||0.9||12||108||0.429|
Of all top-performing freshmen, Larkin played the fewest games this season. Keep in mind, this is not including the five goals and two assists he had in the World Juniors, where he lead all skaters on Team USA in scoring. In fact, I think the World Juniors was the point in which everyone in the hockey world saw what Larkin is. True, raw talent. Not only did Dylan Larkin have a great freshman campaign, the 6'1" 192 lbs Waterford, Michigan native had the best season as a freshman for Michigan since Montreal Canadiens' all-star Max Pacioretty scored 39 points in 37 games. Pacioretty did not see a sophomore year with U of M, as he moved on to Montreal's farm club the following season. Larkin's fate, however, might not be as similar to what Max Pacioretty's was.
In today's world with hockey, a lot of us like to look at the advanced metrics when dissecting players. While "fancy stats" aren't largely tracked in college hockey, there is a very admirable few who do the work of mining this sort of data. College Hockey News has a feature in their statistics which feature advanced metrics. I took the data they have, and formulated a chart to show you Michigan's top players in terms of shot attempts. Please note, this is not Corsi/Fenwick. These are individual shot attempts. They do not reflect on-ice events like Corsi or Fenwick does. I used only players who scored 20 or more points in the 2014-2015 season.
As you can see, Dylan Larkin was a puck-possession behemoth for the Wolverines this season, and keep in mind he did not dress for every single game. The duo of Hyman and Larkin were a large reason for Michigan's success, and the chart makes that very clear. Outside of advanced shot metrics, Larkin had 13 multi-point games with the Wolverines this season, and the team had a record of 11-2-0 in those games.
On March 16th, Dylan Larkin was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year (rookie of the year, in other words), while his linemate Zach Hyman was named Big Ten Scoring Champion.
Larkin helped guide a Michigan offense that led the Big Ten in scoring in conference play en route to Freshman of the Year accolades. The unanimous selection ranked in the top 10 of numerous conference categories, including second with 32 points, tied for second with 21 assists, tied for fourth with 11 goals and third with 10 power-play points. His 32 points were 16 more than any other freshman in conference contests.
Larkin saw most of his time centering the 2nd line for Michigan, and the best way to describe his style of play so far is "electrifying." Simply put, Larkin makes the players around him better when he is on the ice. Whenever watching Michigan play, It's pretty apparent when #19 is out there. Everything just seems to move faster, and smoother. Watch here as Larkin cuts through an entire Wisconsin team like a hot knife through butter:
No doubt in my mind, Dylan Larkin could make the jump to the AHL. An interesting article came out from George Sipple recently stating that Detroit is going to give Larkin and his family the choice if he wants to stay another season with Michigan, or jump right into the AHL as an 18-year-old. The decision would have to come quickly, but if he chose to make the step to the pro-level, he could be playing for Grand Rapids this season. That choice is highly unlikely, I am sure head coach Red Berenson will do what he can to have him stay, as Michigan could have an extremely powerful squad next year. With Jack Eichel likely jumping to the pros next year, Dylan Larkin would be an early heavy-favorite as a Hobey Baker Award candidate. I fully expect Dylan Larkin to return to the NCAA, and continue to develop his game next to many of the players he skated with this season.
Let's say Dylan decides that he wants to make the jump to the pro-level, and forgo his option with the University of Michigan.. Obviously the idea of him stepping into the NHL is completely moot, so the reality would be that he would join the Grand Rapids Griffins for their playoff push. There is also a good chance that they might hold off on putting him with Grand Rapids, and let him train through the summer and attend prospect development camp, the prospect tournament, and the team's main training camp. Remember, NCAA rules state that athletes drafted by NHL teams cannot attend main training camp, or any sort of exhibition tournaments. So if Larkin stays with U of M, he will only be eligible to attend prospect development camp. Did I mention that the college athletes have to pay their own way to attend their club's development camp? Could having Larkin jump from the NCAA to the AHL after one year benefit him? Most could say no, but there is an argument to be made in that regard. While developing his game at the NCAA level is highly beneficial, putting a highly skilled 18 year old prospect into the mix against tougher assignments, competition, and a style of hockey that is leaps and bounds more physical could certainly "kickstart" the young center's path of development. After all, the motive is to prepare himself for inevitable NHL minutes. Max Pacioretty was a 19 years of age when he started his pro career. If Larkin decided to make the step, and start in the AHL next year, he would be the same age by the time the regular season commences.
Regardless of what Dylan Larkin decides to do next year, Red Wings faithful should be excited to have such a promising and skilled young player to look forward to. A player who when he was drafted was slated as a 3rd line center type player, who now looks to be the kind of guy you want in your top six, Larkin bears enormous upside. Personally, I see no gripes in having him pursuit his educational and athletic development with the University of Michigan. It's a great school, with a great hockey program. Either way you look at it, it's a win/win situation.