The 2015-16 Detroit Red Wings’ season was a big disappointment. It was riddled with inconsistencies and inadequacies. Sometimes it was painful to watch, sometimes, it was very infuriating. Other times, I wanted to stop watching and start drinking. And most times I felt like the Red Wings’ social media team deserved an award for being able to put a positive spin on what a disaster they were.
In spite of all this, there was a silver lining: enter Dylan Larkin.
Dylan Larkin was drafted 15th overall by the Red Wings in the 2014 NHL Draft, to no one’s great excitement. A Michigan commit, he started his collegiate career in 2014-15 with the Wolverines. His collegiate career was a huge success and he broke or came close to breaking several records. He made appearances for Team USA at the World Juniors and World Championship and quickly became a mainstream name. Just how great was Larkin’s ascent? By the time the 2015 draft rolled around, many analysts estimated that he would be a Top 5 pick if he were drafted that year.
In the Spring of 2015, Larking signed a professional contract with the Red Wings and was assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins. Coming into training camp in 2015, expectations were high but most fans and analysts expected Larkin to get the typical "kid treatment" the Wings are famous for. To everyone’s delight, after training camp, Ken Holland and Jeff Blashill announced that he made the final roster for the Wings. He catapulted over other prospects on the depth chart like Mantha and Athanasiou by becoming the first teenager to make the team since Jiri Fischer and the first player to make the team right out of training camp since Steve Yzerman.
Larkin played primarily on Zetterberg’s left wing with Justin Abdelkader, although throughout the season he was shuffled and played with other players as well. He played with great consistency for the first four months of the season, putting up 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in 50 games. During this time he led the league in +/- and was in serious contention for the Calder Cup. He cemented himself as one of the top rookies in the league – not an easy feat in the year of McDavid. Larkin was the only Red Wing player selected for the All Star team and also broke the record for fastest skater.
His hot streak (understandably) cooled down by the second half of the season where he scored 12 points (8 goals, 4 assists) in 30 games. Despite his less than stellar second half, Larkin came in first in goals on the team, fourth in points and first in +/-. He also came in first in embarrassing but awesome childhood videos.
Although the playoffs were a disaster for the whole team, I will note Larkin’s performance: he only put up 1 goal in 5 playoff games and finished -2. I think it’s unfair to comment on his playoff performance because of the small sample size.
When comparing Larkin’s rookie season with Tomas Tatar’s and Gustav Nyquist’s, his numbers don’t really stand out as exceptionally better. Especially when considering that during their first 80 games Tatar and Nyquist were in and out of the line up, going back and forth between GR and Detroit and playing limited minutes with different players.
Comparison of Larkin to Tatar and Nyquist
Although I have no concrete back up for this, I think that Larkin is much better than his numbers against Tatar and Nyquist suggest. He is a leader you can build a team around, a strong player and someone with good hockey sense. He is grittier than Nyquist but not as careless with the puck as Tatar is sometimes. He also didn’t play with players as good as Tatar and Nyquist did, most notably Nicklas Lidstrom. I don’t think that the numbers do justice to how much of a better player he is and how much higher his ceiling is.
During his short career Larkin has been compared to numerous top tier players. He’s been hailed as the next Steve Yzerman and Jonathan Toews. Whether he is the next great player or not, it’s hard to say at this point. But, I see no reason to not be extremely optimistic about Larkin’s future going forward with the Red Wings. In my mind he is without a doubt the best player out of the top 25 under 25 and I can't wait to see how he develops.