Dylan Larkin joined the Red Wings in Traverse City today, after a disappointing end for the under 23 team in the World Cup Of Hockey. Larkin wasn’t given much opportunity in the WCoH tournament, playing just 5:33 in the first two period in the loss to Russia, not touching the ice in the third period, and being scratched against Sweden.
World Cup of Hockey Experience
Larkin’s was eager to get to TC and join his teammates, after using the WCoH games to get his legs back under him. Despite his extremely limited usage in the tournament, the young Larkin chooses to focus on the positives
“I take all positives. The only negative is that you still want to be playing, and I think our team should still be playing. I take away learning from guys like Connor McDavid and how he skates and learning little tricks from him. Guys like Nate MacKinnon as well, and Auston Matthews; it was really fun to be part of”
Was it disappointing to be a scratch in the final game?
“Yeah, obviously you want to play. You look at the game against Russia and maybe I didn’t do enough, and other guys are there for a reason and need to get in the lineup, so it is what it is. I’m not going to dwell on it. Life goes on, I’m happy to be here, and I’ve got 82 more chances to prove myself and show them that I should have been playing in the last game.”
Did his limited role in the WCoH give him a chip on his shoulder and a little extra motivation coming to training camp and the start of the NHL season?
“Yeah, I think a little bit. If you look at the games I played I had a bit of a role, but you’re right it wasn’t a top six. I’m just excited to be back here and be back with all the family and playing on the power play and be the guy looked at to provide offense.”
Center Or Winger, That’s The Question.
We talked a little bit already about who will be playing center this season, and both Larkin and coach Blashill confirmed today that Larkin’s rightful place is at center.
Larkin doesn’t take anything for granted, and recognizes that it’s a big responsibility to be the man in the middle.
“It looks like I'm going to be playing in the middle. That’s a big challenge, that’s kind of owning a line. You look at a guy like Henrik Zetterberg and he controls that line. If Z’s not on that night, it’s going to be tough for other players. I’m going to have to work on faceoffs and the little details that are going to make me a better player all around and better in the defensive zone.”
“Good defense leads to better offense. It’s working back on the backcheck, I would like to not even get back into our defensive zone, so it’s coming back hard and making it hard for the other team to get to the middle and get shots, get it on our sticks and go the other way and play offense.”
Even at the young age of 20, Larkin knows his place on the team is as a center, but also that he has to constantly earn that position and be the best option for Blashill.
“Yeah, but if it [being a center] doesn’t work or things change, he’ll [Blashill] change it for sure. If you look at the long picture of me being a Red Wings, it’s ultimately at center. We have a lot of centers, so if it’s not working, he’ll be hesitant, but he could put me back on the wing.”
Coach Jeff Blashill had a lot of praise for Larkin, but also talked about what he needs to improve on in order to be a successful centerman.
“I think the biggest challenge [of Larkin moving to center] is faceoffs. To me, he’s got a skill set that lends itself to center maybe even better than wing because he likes to hunt pucks. Guys that come back into their own zone and like to hunt pucks are better at center, because at wing you’re really forced to stop in your areas, whereas as a center you kind of anticipate where the puck’s going, go get it, and get out of your zone. When I talked to USA Hockey world championship staff, John Hynes said he thought his [larkin’s] defensive instinct were better at center. I think it comes down to how quickly he can get real good at faceoffs.”
“When you have speed up your middle, it probably makes you faster throughout your lineup. Because your wingers can anticipate and try to create separation, so when you have fast centers and they’ve got to go the whole length of the rink, they can transport the puck.”.
“This isn’t a short term thing. We’re looking at it as a long term thing. I see him as a center iceman in the National Hockey League. Faceoffs will be something he’ll have to be good enough at that I feel comfortable enough to put him on the ice in those situations. Things change quickly in the NHL, but that’s our plan right now.”
Expectations This Year
With how great of a season Larkin had last year and how much he’s already shown he can do, it can be all too easy to put unrealistic expectations on him. What Blashill’s ultimately looking for from Larkin, is more than points or numbers on the box score.
“My focus for him isn’t on points or anything like that. It’s on how good is he in the games and is he getting better at faceoffs, is he getting better in all those areas. His competitiveness level is so high that he’s going to find a way to become good at it [center in the NHL]. He learned a lot of lessons last year on the wing and got to watch two of the best two-way centers in the game in Pavel and Hank, he’s a fast learner, so I trust him... The thing that really separates Dylan is his competitive fire and desire.”
That’s high praise coming from your coach, and while Larkin has earned every bit of it, he also isn’t letting any of it go to his head. He knows that he must keep continuing to improve and earn his position. That’s part of what makes him a good player now, and what will make him a great player for many years to come.
I’m excited that Blashill recognizes that Larkin’s skills, speed, and mentality are well suited for a center, and I hope Larkin’s able to improve on faceoffs enough to stay as a center. I believe Blashill’s comment about a fast center making the entire team faster is true, and speed is the future of the NHL. Using players in a position that brings out their strengths and gives the most benefit to the team, what a concept!
Here are the full interviews with Larkin and Blashill if you’d like to listen to what else they had to say.