There is no debating it, this is a massive offseason for the Detroit Red Wings as a club. It started in June with a solid draft when the smooth-skating Filip Zadina fell from his projected third overall slot and magically fell in their lap. Then, Ken Holland and Co. hit a home run selecting speedster, Joe Veleno, with the 30th overall pick.
Regardless of your opinions about Holland’s veteran free agent signings — yes, it will be one more kick at the can for Mike Green (2 years, $5.375M AAV) and Thomas Vanek (1 year, $3M) in Hockeytown — I’ve actually grown to like those two deals. Plus, the addition of Jonathan Bernier (3 years, $3M AAV) in the crease even tickles my fancy while the likes of Kaden Fulcher and Keith Petruzzelli continue their grooming.
Holland also got deals done with budding stars Andreas Athanasiou (2 years, $3M AAV) and Anthony Mantha (2 years, $3.3M AAV).
But, what does it all mean for Dylan Larkin and his contract extension this summer? Reports have surfaced that Holland is looking to lock up the 21-year-old for closer to a five-year term, but Larkin’s camp appears to be trending closer to a six-year extension.
It’s easy to sit here and speculate what the young center might command, but I don’t see why he couldn’t land $6M-7M per year. At 21, coming off a career-high 63 points in 82 games, Larkin measures up pretty well to a couple of well-rounded centers. Per capfriendly.com, Matt Duchene was just 22 when he inked a 5-year, $30-million deal with the Colorado Avalanche after a career-high 70 points. Duchene has never eclipsed more than 59 points in a season since that signing.
Sean Monahan signed a 7-year extension in 2016 with a $6.375M AAV on the heels of a 63-point campaign at just 21 too — he’s rewarded the Calgary Flames with 60-plus points in three of his last four seasons. The real answer people want to know is whether or not Larkin will live up to the hype and any potential contract extension he agrees upon?
With rumors swirling that Henrik Zetterberg could call it quits on a fantastic career before the start of the regular season, Larkin may be the next in line to don the captaincy for the Red Wings (although we will save that discussion for another day). The 21-year-old has all the intangibles to earn his next contract in a Red Wings uniform, and I’ll outline below why the fans can be sure the front office is re-building around the right guy.
Skill/Ability to Learn
The term “skill” sounds generic, but Larkin is a former first-round pick and he’s gradually showed us why over the past three seasons. His speed is his greatest attribute, and there’s no debating he possesses one of the quickest strides in the NHL. It was showcased at the 2016 NHL All-Star game when he won the fastest skater competition — Connor McDavid might have something to say about who the true speedster is — and he’s blown by countless defenseman on his way to prime scoring chances.
Last year, Larkin led the Red Wings with 63 points in 82 games and that is just a glimpse of what is to come. With the addition of Zadina and his goal-scoring presence, the team has to be excited about the potential of a top line that would also feature Mantha one day, if not this year. Larkin has great vision to find his teammates with a crisp pass and also led the team with 47 assists last season. His playmaking ability will be the perfect compliment to Zadina’s goal-scoring touch and that should only help Larkin rack up the points. He’s been bounced up and down the lineup by Jeff Blashill the past couple of seasons and adding a prolific scorer to his wing should be a recipe for success.
What’s more comforting is the confidence Blashill showed in his young center last season and how he deployed him in the defensive zone more often. Larkin had a 34.35 defensive zone start percentage (DZS%) at 5v5 last season, up from 29.09% in 2016-17 and 25% in 2015-16 (Corsica.hockey). Many have questioned during his short career whether Larkin would last as center or be moved to the wing, but his face-off percentage has also improved each year. From 41.0% in his rookie campaign, he climbed to 49.9% last season. This tells me he’s willing to put the time in during practice and is very in tune with his surroundings on the ice.
As detailed in the WIIM article “Looking at the Red Wings Season Through the Lens of High Danger Chances,” while Larkin has been very good at creating dangerous chances, he’s also been on the ice for a disproportionately high number of dangerous chances against:
Outliers on the negative side are Dylan Larkin, Martin Frk, and Luke Witkowski. Larkin comes as a bit of a surprise if you just base your evaluation of him on the eye test. His Expected Goals Against / 60 (xGA60), which takes into account shot quality, was the worst for forwards on the team last season. He also had the highest xGF60, so he partially makes up for this deficiency with high danger chances for Detroit when he was on the ice. (His xGF% was 47.85, so the net effect was still negative.)
Yes, Larkin played against very good competition, but so did Henrik Zetterberg, who played more 5v5 minutes per game and averaged 3.5 HDCA less per 60 minutes than Larkin did.
The defensive metrics are not pretty for Larkin and it’s the one part of his game that needs the most improvement. However, he has the work ethic to turn this around and is not afraid to put in the time and effort during practice to make the necessary changes. Larkin is very much a student of the game and where the Wings’ coaching staff wants him to grow, he will because he wants to get his game to the next level This is especially easier for his development when learning from a guy like Hank who has paid his dues and knows the ins and outs of what it takes to be a leader and come to the rink at the top of your game. In an article written by Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News, Jimmy Howard references Larkin’s work ethic during practice:
One of the hardest-working guys on our team. He’s one of the first guys on the ice every single day for practice and one of the last ones off — and by last one off, he’s usually out there for a solid half hour after everyone is gone.
One thing I really enjoyed watching from Larkin in his rookie year during that first-round playoff series with the Tampa Bay Lightning was his fearlessness. He was scrappy for a young up-and-coming guy and didn’t take any guff of the likes of Ryan Callahan or Brian Boyle — that’s what you like to see from a young forward. For me, that showed confidence in his game, as if he knew he belonged out on that ice with the Lightning and he could sure skate too, especially when he found the back of the net on Ben Bishop...
He comes to the rink ready to practice and then asserts himself on game day and that to me is the epitome of a professional hockey player. I also think he has that quiet leadership capability around the locker room much like Hank did by leading on the ice, but knowing when to speak up and rally the troops. He strikes me as a guy with a great head on his shoulders and knows what’s necessary to get this club back to its glory days. The following quote from Larkin via a Craig Custance story in The Athletic talks about his extension and gives you an idea of where Larkin sees this team heading in the future...
It’s got to make sense for the team as well as myself, I don’t want to be a burden on the cap or for the team. I really want to do something that — obviously it’s my future, when I want to have a family later in life, it’s something that can be pretty significant — but I also want to win and I want to be on a team that can have good players and can be competitive.
If that doesn’t show his leadership capabilities, then I’m not sure what will. Larkin speaks like a captain and definitely has the type of mindset that you want on this team for years to come. Like Zetterberg before him, I think Larkin has the potential be a great leader on and off the ice.
Where do I see Larkin’s ceiling? I think that 70-75 points is certainly attainable when you consider how much better this team got at the draft and the potential of Zadina to step in the lineup right away (especially if Hank retires). Larkin led all Wings forwards with 19:51 TOI last season and Blashill is definitely feeling more confidence in deploying him in all situations. He knows he needs to be a 200-foot player to be a great center for this team and in the NHL, and it’s something he will continue to work at.
The point is, the Wings don’t need a 100-point scorer when Zetterberg retires, they need a leader, someone accountable every night for his team’s performance. If Larkin continues to develop a 200-foot presence on the ice, then he has the potential to be one of the best two-way centers in the league possessing great vision that could mix very well for years to come when paired with Mantha and Zadina. When he finally does put pen to paper this summer, Wings fans can rest easy, knowing that he will be worth every dollar.
Where do you see Dylan Larkin’s potential headed?
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