We’ve heard it for years: the Detroit Red Wings like to let their prospects “over-ripen” in the minors before calling them up to Detroit. This was the case with many prospects that have worked their way through the system. Tomas Tatar played three years in Grand Rapids before getting his call up. Gustav Nyquist spent three years going back and forth between Detroit and Grand Rapids before he got his first full-time gig with the Red Wings. Even for goaltender Jimmy Howard, four years in Grand Rapids before cracking the main roster in Detroit. The list goes on and on.
In 2014, the Red Wings had the 15th-overall draft pick, their highest draft pick since 1991 when they drafted Martin LaPointe with the 10th-overall pick. They would use that pick to draft Dylan Larkin, who was committed to playing his college hockey at the University of Michigan. At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal. Oh, how things can change over the course of a year.
To say that Larkin has been successful at every level he has played could be considered an understatement. In 2013, he played 26 games for the United States National U-18 team. In those 26 games, he registered 17 goals and 9 assists. In 2014, his freshman year at the U of M, he tallied 15 goals and 32 assists in 35 games. He also got his first taste of professional hockey, being sent to play with the Griffins during their playoff run. In his six game sample, he scored three goals and two assists. That’s a 19-year old kid being put into the playoffs with a professional team, and standing out.
To this point of the preseason, Larkin has played in four games, and recorded three goals and an assist. While that is plenty impressive in its own right, consider that most of that time in those four games has been spent on the first and second lines. Yes, I understand it’s just the preseason. But Larkin is not standing out just among prospects of the Red Wings and prospects of the teams they are playing against. He is standing out among most roster players from either team. At 19 years old, his vision of the ice will only continue to get better, too. In last night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Larkin played the entire game on the top line between Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader. The Red Wings would win 7-2, and Larkin scored a beautiful goal that saw him fly around the outside of the Penguins defender and finish the play by beating the goaltender on the blocker side. He also had a nice assist on an Abdelkader goal.
While it sounds easy enough to say that Larkin should be on the team when the final roster is announced, consider the fact that the roster is already jam-packed with forwards who have little to no wiggle room. With Pavel Datsyuk being injured, and Darren Helm unlikely to be ready on the opening night of the regular season, it is looking more possible for Larkin to make the team out of camp. What to do once both Datsyuk and Helm return is the bigger issue.
While Larkin is still developing, do the Red Wings want to keep him on the team to play 12-16 minutes a night on the third line? Or let him get an entire season at the professional level under his belt with the Griffins, where he would play on the first line, and get a larger chunk of ice time every night.
While making a trade to open a spot in the top six for Larkin in Detroit is another possibility, I think the Red Wings are going to err on the side of caution, as we have seen many times with the organization. I expect to see Larkin start the year in Grand Rapids, but the Wings will not hesitate to bring him to Detroit the first chance they get. A talent like Larkin makes everyone around him better, and chances like this don’t come every day, especially for a team that has been so successful for so long.