It’s easy to forget that Dylan Larkin is a teenager.
He’s not old enough to have a sip of beer, barely old enough to vote, and he probably thinks The Tonight Show was created for Jimmy Fallon.
But the 19-year old is playing like a mature man on the ice in this his rookie season for the Detroit Red Wings. Not since Steve Yzerman has a teenager fueled this much excitement in Hockeytown. Larkin may never be Yzerman (no one ever can), but about a third into his first season he’s already doing things that few have ever done at his age.
First let’s discuss first impressions. On opening night Larkin earned an assist in the first period against the Maple Leafs. In the next period he skated around a pair of defenders and slipped in the first goal of his career. The crowd erupted at Joe Louis Arena and Larkin’s efforts helped the Wings to a 4-0 victory. He did that while being the first teenager to play on opening night for the Red Wings since 1990.
Earlier this season, in November, Larkin scored a goal in four consecutive games. That’s a nice trick for any player, regardless of experience, but the young center became only the second teenager to do that since Yzerman accomplished it in 1984. Something tells us Larkin will be doing a lot of things that Yzerman once did and that the comparisons will be made between the two.
Amazingly, Larkin might be a better puck handler at this stage than Yzerman was. Which of course is saying a lot. Yzerman was a more nifty skater and his instincts as a leader seemed honed from the first time he set his blade on the ice for the Red Wings. At the young age of 21 Yzerman was elevated to captain by the Red Wings. That’s not going to happen with Larkin, but he’s already established himself as a go-to man on his shifts on the ice. Some teams have taken to double teaming him, and it’s certain that attention will grow as he makes his way around the league.
In the recent stretch where the wings have went 8-0-4, Larkin has seven goals and five assists. He’s playing great on both sides of the ice and it seems like every game he does something that makes you sit up in your seat. He’s special and that’s not lost on his teammates, some of whom are heralding him for the All-Star Game, which will be played in Nashville at the end of next month. Yzerman was the youngest player to ever be an All-Star, making the team in his rookie year as an 18-year old. Since then two more teens have been named to the team, but it’s unusual.
Teams in the NHL today like to bring along young players slowly, taking care of them gently. That frequently results in fans clamoring for those youngsters to be promoted from the top farm club. But not this time.
Larkin was playing for the University of Michigan hockey team just nine months ago. It was less than six months ago that the Red Wings signed him to his first professional contract, six weeks before his 19th birthday. Then, after he dazzled scouts while working out for the Grand Rapids Griffins, he was placed on their playoff roster, where he scored a goal in his second game. In October the young kid from Waterford was told that he would be on Detroit’s roster for the 2015-16 season. The rest, as they say is history.
To this point, through 29 games, Larkin, whose #71 jersey is becoming the hot item in Detroit, is leading the NHL in plus-minus rating. There’s a long way to go in the season, of course, but for a rookie to lead in that category is quite a feat. especially considering the Wings have scored there share but also allowed their share of goals too. Larkin has scored 11 goals and also has 11 assists, for 22 points thus far. He’s slapped in three game-winning goals on the season.
It can be dangerous to project numbers in an NHL season, but at his current pace, Larkin would tally 31 goals and 65 points in his freshman year in the NHL. Those would be lofty numbers for any rookie, and the highest totals for a Detroiter since Stevie Y back in 1983-84 (39 goals and 87 points).
The Wings are second in the Atlantic division as this article is published. They have a mix of veterans to go along with Larkin and a few other notable young players. But all eyes are on #71 right now. He’s the young man with the unlimited future ahead of him. Right now Wings fans are getting to know this phenom, and what we see so far is fantastic.
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