It's been a whirlwind ride for Dylan Lakin ever since the wings drafted him. He had an incredible season at the University of Michigan, was one of team USA's best forwards in the World Juniors, and performed very well in the World Championships. He finished his freshman season at UofM, decided to begin his professional career now, and joined the Griffins for their Western Conference Finals series where jumped right in and make an impact.
It didn't take Larkin very long after being drafted to become widely touted as one of the top prospects not already in the NHL, but we were left to wonder how long before we'd see him in a Wings jersey. Despite all his well deserved accolades and accomplishments, it wasn't clear after his season ended if he'd return to Michigan, or sign a contract with the Wings and possibly spend the next season in Grand Rapids. Just before the Griffins started their WCF series, the Wings announced that they'd signed Larkin to his entry level contract and Larkin LunacyTM was unleashed. Larkin's decision was announced the day after Mike Babcock left the Red Wings to sign with the Maple Leafs, and it was hard not to wonder if Larkin's decision was influenced by Babcock's. Would going to Grand Rapids and essentially auditioning for the next Red Wings head coach tip the scales enough to lead Larkin to leave college after just one year? I asked Dylan Larkin if getting a chance to play for Blashill, knowing he was about to become the Coach of the Red Wings, affected his decision to leave Michigan, and he said
"A little bit. Jumping in and playing in GR and playing for him was a valuable experience. I was trying to show him how I work and and I wanted to jump all over that opportunity"
By going to Grand Rapids and playing for Blashill, Larkin was able to show the soon to be Wings coach what he could do in high pressure situations, and display his skills and abilities, while letting Blashill get to know him on a personal level and evaluate not only his abilities, but his attitude, work ethic, and leadership as well. He never would have gotten that opportunity had he waited to turn pro. He wouldn't even have been able to attend Red Wings training camp until he signed his contract. Even in training camp the rookies are limited in what they can truly display for the coaches, because it's only drills and scrimmages. Larkin got to display his glory in the playoffs when he didn't have to hold back, which helped him make a strong case for being a Red Wing soon.
Larkin made the right decision and gave himself the best chance for success, but it wasn't easy to jump from college right into the AHL playoffs.
"It was pretty tough. The AHL is definitely another step up, just the speed and physicality at that next level, everyone's stronger. That first game was a pretty big adjustment but as the series went on I got more comfortable and felt better"
Every next level in hockey has faster, stronger, and more physical players, but this was interesting to hear coming from Larkin, because we often debate how big of a step up the AHL is from college. To hear Larkin describe his AHL experience as that much of a challenge and step up makes me think maybe the discrepancy is a little bigger than than I used to believe.
If Mike Babcock had re-signed with the Wings, I believe Dylan Larkin would be returning to Michigan for another season. It looks like things are falling into place in the Wings organization and I'm extremely excited to see what next year holds for Dylan Larkin.