Dylan Larkin is having a career year. With his 30th goal in Tuesday night’s 5-3 win against Boston, he’s now just two away from his career-high from 2018-19 and his 65 points are now just nine shy of his career-high from the same year with 12 games to play. There were a lot of question marks about the Red Wings captain headed into the 2021-22 season. However, he has more than answered the bell as he continues to show why he deserves the “C” on his chest as well as show that he can be the number one center for this team going forward.
No Longer the Only Playmaker
Early on in his career, Larkin’s role was reduced to being a playmaker. In fact, his career-high in assists came in just his third NHL season when he had 47 in 2017-18. That year, he and Henrik Zetterberg (45) were the only two on the entire team to have more than 25 assists. Since then, he has been able to grow more and more as a goal scorer. This year has been the absolute peak of that as he has already reached the 30 goal marker in 65 games, a pace which would put him around 38 goals if he were to play a full 82-game season.
A big reason for this is that he finally has several other playmakers around him that he didn’t have before. With his 40th assist on Tuesday night, Moritz Seider has the most assists by a Red Wing not named Larkin since Zetterberg in 2017-18. The rookie defenseman has really taken the playmaking role that the Red Wings have lacked on the blue line for a long time, and the forwards are benefitting from it.
It’s more than just Seider though. Over the previous three seasons, the Red Wings have only had one player hit the 30 assist mark who isn’t Dylan Larkin. That would be Gustav Nyquist who had 33 in 2018-19 before being traded to San Jose. Through 70 games this season, the Red Wings have three non-Larkin players with 30+ assists in Seider, Lucas Raymond and Filip Hronek with Tyler Bertuzzi just two assists away from joining that group. It’s by far the most offensive support Larkin has ever had in a Red Wings jersey, and he is showing with the right pieces around him, he can be a point per game player or perhaps, even better.
The “C” Fits
As well as having his best statistical season as a Red Wing, Larkin has shown a lot of growth as a captain this season. He has shown a lot of this in his postgame interviews, especially during the team’s recent struggles. Following Sunday afternoon’s loss to the Ottawa Senators, Larkin said “I look around and I don’t see a lot of joy, I don’t see a lot of guys having fun.”
That kind of statement is a serious indictment on a team that is young and should be having fun out there. The fact that he was willing to say that really shows what he wants to see out of his teammates. In the same press conference, he also mentioned what he has been saying about the team in the locker room. He talked about what this team needs to be playing for which is roles on the team next year, for contracts going forward and “if that’s not enough, you’ve gotta play for the love of the game and come out and enjoy it.”
It sure seemed like the team got the message on Tuesday as they finally ended their six-game losing streak against one of the hottest teams in hockey in the Boston Bruins. During the game, we saw how quickly this team was willing to stand up for their leader and captain. Larkin and Brad Marchand got into a bit of a scuffle which led to the Bruins pest throwing a punch. Bertuzzi and Seider both immediately swarmed in there to protect their captain and take Marchand to the ice.
This team clearly believes in Dylan Larkin as their leader going forward, and it’s a role he should keep. While the past two and a half months of Red Wings hockey haven’t been great, seeing him step up and be brutally honest to the media and his team is something that needs to be done. That combined with his career year on the ice has made this season one to remember for the Detroit captain and one that the Hockeytown faithful hope he can build upon.