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Wings off to Slow Start, But Larkin has been a Shining Light

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Dylan Larkin has more than lived up to expectations this season in the wake of Henrik Zetterberg’s retirement

Detroit Red Wings v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

This is was one of the most highly anticipated seasons in recent memory for the Detroit Red Wings, purely from an entertainment perspective. A chance for the team to gravitate away from their older style towards granting opportunities for the young crop of players to rise through the ranks and make an impact at the NHL level.

The overwhelming majority of the fanbase has grown tired of Jeff Blashill’s antics — it showed in a pathetic start to the season that saw the Red Wings drop their first seven games — and many were calling for his head behind the bench, including WIIM’s own Jack S.

Despite the rough start out of the gates there have been some positives with the emergence of Dennis Cholowski on the blueline (some considering him in early Calder Trophy conversation). Gustav Nyquist has skated out to a good start with 12 points in 14 games and shown some flashes of his 2014-15 form. The fact that Michael Rasmussen has been given an opportunity to stick with the big club is revolutionary in itself as this would never have been the case 10 years ago when it came to seasoning the prospects pool. But, perhaps nobody has impressed more through the first month of the season than Dylan Larkin.

The speedy center leads the team with 15 points through 14 games, but how does he measure up? Well, when looking around the league he has stacked up rather nicely against the rest of the landscape. His 15 points is tied with the likes of Nicklas Backstrom and Brad Marchand, and one more than Sidney Crosby and Nikita Kucherov. So far, so good.

Production-wise you couldn’t have asked for a better start, but what’s impressed me more is the possession stats when Larkin is on the ice. His metrics 5-on-5 are his best yet in his fourth season, sitting at a 53.6 CF%, and I believe a lot of that success can be geared towards the emphasis he puts on working on his game during practice throughout the week. We’ve heard teammates like Jimmy Howard reference the effort level that Larkin brings on his off days and it seems to be paying off.

Here is what Ken Holland had to say in August per MLive.com’s Ansar Khan after signing Larkin to his five-year contract extension:

He hates to lose. He’s got a big motor and he’s always coming in every shift, and he’s the same in practice. I think he’s made tremendous progress in learning to play a 200-foot game. Dylan brings a lot of determination and a lot of passion, and he loves the game of hockey.

There was some scrutiny in the media regarding Larkin’s contract extension and people questioned whether the dollar value of the agreement made sense. But, I’ve touched on contract comparables already this year and my stance is simple: he’s worth every cent and in the long run the Wings will make out like bandits.

In order to win in this league you need to have stability down the middle and Larkin is the type of player, now in his fourth year, that can bring that competitive spirit and drive to the rink night in and night out. The game has trended towards a faster pace than in recent years and he certainly has that.

The coaching staff is trusting him more and more, as we see him playing on the penalty kill this season and if he’s going to be the player that pushes the Wings over the top then it’s important he plays in all situations like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg did before him.

When Zetterberg announced his retirement during the offseason, it was a sad day for Wings fans alike. Many wondered if he could be replaced — a player of Zetterberg’s leadership and skill is hard to come by — and who would wear the coveted “C” in the future? I say look no further. Larkin is the guy and is going to be in “Hockeytown” (it’s still “Hockeytown” to me) for a lot of years and at 22, his start to the campaign has been remarkable. Will he be an 80-90 point player throughout his career? Maybe not. But, does he need to be? What Larkin brings to the rink each day, his impact on the bench and the respect he’s gained from his teammates gives me the peace of mind that this team is in good hands and on the right track back to being successful.