Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland took some time to talk to TSN 1040 in Vancouver. You can hear the full interview by clicking here, or you can check out a transcript of the interview below:
Question: We wanted to talk to you a little bit about Dylan Larkin because I think you surprised a lot of people when you kept him on the NHL roster at the end of training camp. We’re so used to hearing “over-ripe” and “don’t give them a spot in the NHL until they’re absolutely ready”. What was it about this young man that had you guys change course with the way you handle young players and prospects?
Holland: First off, it turned out that we drafted him 15th overall, and he played at the University of Michigan which is in Ann Arbor, which is 20 minutes away, so I got to see him play not a lot but six times, seven times in our back yard. For me really, when I thought that he had the chance to not spend three years in college and a year in the American League was at the World Junior, which was in Montreal and Toronto. They had a team with Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, and Sonny Milano, and all the best junior-aged players in the world. I thought as the tournament rolled on, he was one of the most important players on the American team. He had five, six, seven goals in the World Junior. He played well enough that Team USA hockey picked him to be one of four or five young players along with Eichel, Mike Reilly, and a Nashville draft pick, to play for the US at the men’s world’s at Prague. I went over there and watched him play. He was in a checking role. He was on the ice against the Russians in the semi-finals when they had Kovalchuk (Ilya Kovalchuk), and some of the other players out there, and he was able to hold his own. We played Utica in the Calder Cup playoffs, in the third round, and he stepped right in there. I thought by the middle of that series, at times, he was the best forward on the Grand Rapids team. I think that naming Jeff Blashill as head coach, who got to coach him for six games, we really felt coming into training camp that he was going to push for a spot on the team. He’s certainly been better than we could have hoped. To think that coming into the season, we’d be here in December, and he’s a legitimate top-six forward on our team in minutes played every night. He plays a lot of key situations and is one of our leading scorers and point getters. I don’t think we could have foresaw that in training camp. Being around him, he’s mature. He’s not 19, he’s older than 19. He’s a very mature young man. He’s good defensively, for the most part. There are times when he swings by, but he’s good defensively. I think from a coaching standpoint, with young players, when you’re good defensively it buys you more ice time.
Question: +19 on the season. We’ve always remarked how you were able to turn the page on the Steve Yzerman era to the Pavel Datsyuk/Henrik Zetterberg era. I think people who were on the outside looking in are wondering “so who’s taking over for those two elder statesmen? Is it Tomas Tatar? Is it Gustav Nyquist? Is it Teemu Pulkkinen?” All guys that are impressive in their own right, none of them really scream yet – although they are all in their mid 20’s – they don’t scream “superstar”. Is Larkin the superstar, or do you still have some hope for those guys that they can step up and be in the “elite” class of the NHL?
Holland: If I’m not mistaken, 17 players in the league had 30 or more goals last season, and Tatar and Nyquist had 28 and 27 goals. One was 25, one was 24. They’re a year older now. But they’re good goal scorers. Nyquist has had back to back 28 goal seasons, and Tatar has gone 19 and 27, and they’re both on pace for 25 to 30 again. It looks like they’re 25 to 30 goal scorers. I would say they’re really good players. It’s hard to be the face of a franchise. But, Dylan Larkin, for a lot of reasons. He’s 19 years old. He’s had a real impact on our team. He’s home grown, from Waterford, Michigan. He played minor hockey in Detroit. He probably has a chance to be the face of the franchise. I also kind of look at, Larkin is 19. Riley Sheahan‘s 23. Tatar is 24 or 25. Nyquist is 25. Danny DeKeyser is 25. Petr Mrazek is 23. We’ve got some other players, like the other 29 teams in the league, that we’ve got some hope for in Grand Rapids who we own their rights. But certainly, these players on the team that I just mentioned at their age, those are the players that we are looking at over the next three or four years that are going to grow and become really important players to the Detroit Red Wings. Jonathan Ericsson is 30 or 31, I think he’s going to be here for five or six more years. Jimmy Howard‘s 30. We just signed a seven-year deal with Justin Abdelkader, he’s only 28 years old. Darren Helm is an unrestricted free agent, but he’s 28. At some point in time, I have to sit down and talk with him. So we’ve got some people who are 27, 28, 29. What I’m hoping to do with our team is, well, Zetterberg and Datsyuk are stars. We’re not going to find those types of players in the sixth and seventh round again. We have to try to draft lots of players, and hopefully, some of them become better than what you think. But certainly, Dylan Larkin, with what he’s accomplished at his age, has the most potential of the players on our team to become the face, or one of the face’s, of this franchise.
Question: We talked about Zetterberg, but the Canucks have two 35-year-old Swede’s who seem to be defying the odds and finding the fountain of youth. Zetterberg hasn’t really wavered through his 30’s either. What are they doing in Sweden that is preserving these guys for so long?
Holland: The Sedin twins, like Pav and Z, and probably like Nicklas Lidstrom and Yzerman, those players that are superstars in their prime remain great players even with father time. You look at Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, what they’re doing in San Jose. Those players can play until they’re 40 years old, and still be really good players. They’re just better than everyone else in their prime. Even if their skills erode a little bit, they might not be superstars, but they’re still stars. I think that’s what the twins are doing in Vancouver, that’s what Pav and Z are doing for us, and that’s what Marleau and Thornton are doing in San Jose. We had some other players who did that too. What Datsyuk and Zetterberg have done for us is keep us competitive, and at the same time, I hope they’re role models for the next generation of players, and allow our younger players the time they need to develop. Zetterberg and Datsyuk really took over this franchise when they were 25 and 26. We came out of the work stoppage in 2005. A year later, Yzerman retired. Fedorov was gone. We still had Lidstrom around for a bit. But they were 25 and 26. It’s hard to be the face of a franchise when you’re 21 or 22 unless you’re Conor McDavid or Alexander Ovechkin. A number one or number two, like the twins. The twins were number two and three overall. Most people need some time, and I’m hoping Zetterberg and Datsyuk allow us to continue being competitive. At the same time, these players that we’ve talked about need the time that they need to fully develop into the players that they can be. You hope that some of them become star players, and maybe one of them becomes a superstar. That’s certainly what happened with Zetterberg and Datsyuk, and we’re going to continue with that model.
Question: We know you’ve had plenty to say in the past in the overtime and shootout meetings. Your team has played more games beyond regulation than anybody, with 13. How do you think three-on-three overtime is working out?
Holland: My take would be: it’s done what we had hoped. Way more games are being decided in overtime. I think the other thing is, we’re in the entertainment business. You’ve got to be entertained by overtime. It’s two-on-ones, it’s breakaways. Somebody tries to go down and push the pace a little bit, then next thing you know, you see a long stretch pass the other way. I think it’s done everything we could have hoped as a group of managers, and as a league. I think it’s resulted in a lot more games decided in overtime than the four-on-four. I think it’s exciting and entertaining. You’re never going to get 100% rating on anything you do in life, but I have to believe that there is an overwhelming amount of players and fans who are enjoying overtime.
Question: Video review, your overall thoughts on how that has worked out?
Holland: I think pretty good. I think obviously that what the goal was at the manager’s level was that there is always those 15-20 goals that everybody knew should have been disallowed, but we didn’t have anything in place to disallow them. This gives the coaches and teams an opportunity to have some goals reviewed. I’m sure we’ll look at this again in the manager’s meetings to see if we can tweak it to make it a little bit better. But for the most part, I think it’s done what it was meant to do.