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Dylan Larkin’s Reputation-Setting Sophomore Season

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Larkin passed the first test with flying colors. It only gets harder from here.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Detroit Red Wings at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Something kind of lost and/or glossed over in the summer discussion about the Red Wings and their mishandling of youth is the exception already on the roster. While Kyle is rightfully worried about what’s going to happen with waiver eligible players, we have a waiver-exempt 20 year old who absolutely will not be buried in Grand Rapids to start the season. Dylan Larkin is the real deal and he’s got a chance to be great.

Just see how Kris Draper gushed about the phenom on Sirius XM (as transcribed by Chris Nichols at Today’s Slapshot)

“We know we have something special. You don’t want to put extreme expectations on him. He is only 20 years old. But the way that he handles himself and the way that he prepares himself, we feel we have a special player there. I don’t want to compare him to other players throughout the league, but I think Dylan Larkin has an opportunity to be a special hockey player and be a Detroit Red Wing for a long, long time.”

(There’s plenty more from Draper in that post, including some good stuff about the other kids. Give it a read)

That handling & preparation thing is exactly why so many of us are so high on Dylan Larkin. He’s got a competitive drive that we’ve seen in others who have gone on to be big impact players. The drive hints at a maturity beyond his years, which could end up with him wearing a letter before too long.

However, if Larkin is going to follow the footsteps of those greats, there’s going to be another side to reputation-earning that he’s going to have to contend with, and that’s going to start this season: Larkin’s going to have to keep his composure with the referees.

The Way it Works

Larkin ended up last season with a +7 penalty differential in terms of those taken versus those drawn. We can see thanks to Corsica Hockey that the entire +7 was earned in the second half of the season. Through Larkin’s first 40 games, he took 12 and drew 12; in the second half, Larkin drew 13 penalties and took only six. Three of those first half penalties came in Larkin’s first five games, an adjustment period to be sure.

It stands to reason that speedsters get good penalty differentials. Heck, the only two players on the Wings with better differentials were fellow speed-freaks Darren Helm and Andreas Athanasiou, tied at +10 each. But what we know from watching last season is that Larkin’s differential should have been even better.

Of course, we don’t have good numbers on penalties that “should have” been called, but I’m pretty comfortable saying that pretty much every good player in the league likely should have had a better differential, but didn’t for a variety of reasons which essentially all circle around the catch-all concept of “the refs are humans.”

Human Error and Reputation

The lack of stats about missed calls doesn’t mean we don’t have evidence that refereeing is flawed. Kerry Fraser himself previously wrote that referees have not only a published list of guys, but also keep personal tabs on players to pay special attention to. FiveThirtyEight published an article in May of 2015 that analyzed referee habits in terms of calling penalties which pointed to some sort of internal drive to keep penalty differentials consistently close, even though the game doesn’t necessarily dictate that.

Scouting the Refs is a great site which keeps individual stats on the way referees call games as well.

When you combine lists of players, referees trying to intentionally scrub bias from penalty calling (which hilariously creates a bias all its own), and human nature itself, you’re kind of stacking things against a 20 year old kid, the age group which is essentially the lowest class of NHL player even if they’re potentially among the very best.

Now we’re not talking about diving necessarily and as far as I know Larkin isn’t on such a list, but it’s interesting to note that Gustav Nyquist’s differently has essentially flatlined since he was fined for diving by the NHL, caused almost entirely by a change in the number of penalties drawn.

Instead, I’m talking more-generally about reputation. We saw last season that Larkin is a fiery competitor and that he would often look to or chirp at the refs looking for penalty calls (it’s part of the reason we know he should have drawn more). Heck, Larkin even asked for a penalty during the All-Star game, and we all know how insanely rare those things are.

Earn Your Way

Larkin’s reputation from his first season is extremely exciting. He’s a young warrior who fought his way onto the Red Wings lineup with a passion and drive we hope means great things, but as a 20 year old heading into the 2nd season, he’s not going to get as much leeway in terms of just being excitable and he’s not going to get a lot of it from refs who can quickly tire of youngsters jawing at them about how to do their jobs. We’ve seen during the early years of some of the current greats that kids that age can easily get labeled a whiner.

There’s a lot of uncertainty with the whole team going forward and Larkin not “getting it” is somewhere buried on my list of concerns near things like “another Zamboni breakdown carves a picture of me in my underwear into the ice,” but it will be interesting to watch the development of a kid who has so far shown a learning pace that rivals his own skating pace.