Question: What were you doing the year you turned 19?
Answer: Probably trying to learn how to navigate college without trying too hard or maybe trying to sneak out of your parents house.
Whatever you were doing, it probably wasn’t as exciting as Dylan Larkin’s 19th year. The rookie Red Wing turned 19 only about ten weeks ago, yet in the last year-plus he’s been a standout on the ice for U of M as a freshman, starred for the United States Hockey Team in the World Championships, signed a contract with the Red Wings after being drafted 15th overall in the draft, been named the #1 prospect in the NHL, and made his debut with Detroit.
Hell, the kid’s still got acne and he’s already accomplished enough to have a Wikipedia entry.
Last month the 19-year old Waterford native made the Red Wings roster, becoming the first 19-year old to do that since Mike Sillinger 25 years ago. On opening night in the first period against the Maple Leafs, Larkin dished a perfect pass for his first NHL assist, then in the second period he slapped a shot past Jonathan Bernier for his first goal. Given his talent and seemingly unlimited potential, we’re pretty sure it won’t be his last.
So far in his young career Larkin is making quite an impact. He’s skating on the same line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader. The trio sort of make up the “Star Past”, “Star Present” and “Star Future” of this franchise. The 35-year old Swede, Zetterberg is entering a phase of his career where he’s starting to slow down a bit, dishing the puck more while still drawing lots of attention from opposing teams for his great finesse on the ice. Skating on the left side of this line, Abdelkader is 28 years old and coming into his prime. He scored 44 points last season, a figure that’s bound to jump with the addition of Larking to his group.
Though he’s yet to have his first hat trick or make his first All-Star team, Larkin is already a fan favorite. His #71 jersey is flying off the shelves as Detroit fans eagerly embrace a new hockey hero, especially female fans. His All-American, clean-cut good looks don’t hurt.
Oh yes, the comparisons are bound to come to “you know who” — Steve Yzerman. Stevie Y also debuted as a teenager for the Wings, tallying 39 gola sand 87 points in his rookie season. Like Yzerman, Larkin is a speed skater with great moves on the open ice. Like Yserman he’s projected to be a leader too. But no one believes Larkin will score as early and as often as Yzerman did in his Hall of Fame career. Progress would be enough.
But Larkin does have something that The Captain didn’t have: he’s a hometown kid. Larkin was born in Waterford only a few weeks after the Wings were ousted by the Avalanche in the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference Finals in a series that featured the infamous hard hit by Claude Lemieux on Kris Draper. Larkin is a Michigan kid with deep Michigan roots. Like Kirk Gibson (from Pontiac) a generation ago, he’s a strong, good-looking kid who was born in Michigan, raised in Michigan, wore the colors of a Michigan college, and earned status as a top prospect. But that carries with it a tremendous burden.
Like Gibson and Yzerman and other young “can’t miss prospects,” Larkin will face high expectations from the organization and from the fans. So far he’s handled it all very well, showing a maturity that impressed his teammates. Can he be as great as Yzerman? That’s a tall order, but Larkin can certainly become a star in this league, a force in the NHL and for the Wings. Two years before he can even order a cocktail in the U.S., he’s already shown he’s man enough to play with the best the NHL has.
The Wings are playing good hockey to start the 2015-16 season too, fueled in part by “The LAZer Line” of Larkin, Abdelkader, and Zetterberg. The future looks bright for #71 and the new-look Wings.