The Red Wings’ best player wasn’t even born when Colorado’s Claude Lemieux rearranged Kris Draper’s face in the 1996 Western Conference Finals.
Let that sink in for a moment. I’ll wait.
It’s almost incomprehensible to think that, not even two months ago, there was hand-wringing over whether Dylan Larkin should be included on the Red Wings’ opening night roster.
Right now, Larkin is making this NHL thing look easy; forget what he might have done to the American Hockey League. They would have banned him, like a casino would with an expert card counter.
Larkin is the 19 year-old who on many nights is the best player on the ice for the Red Wings, who are riding his wave to the tune of a 7-0-3 streak in their past 10 games.
In NHL parlance, it’s a polite way of saying that a team is 7-3 in its last ten, but still, it’s a nice streak.
Larkin leads the league in plus/minus, and no matter what you think of that flawed statistic, whenever you lead the league in anything that’s deemed positive, it’s a good thing.
When you do so as a teenager, it’s even better.
Larkin, the kid from Waterford who last year was wearing Maize and Blue and a full face mask, continues to amaze with his hockey instincts, which belie his tender age.
If you didn’t know better, watching Larkin play, you’d think no.71 was a wily veteran.
His passes are threaded like a tailor. His game is awash with deftness. He glides around the ice as if he owns the rink. He has the confidence of a seasoned cat burglar.
And he’s 19.
Forget the Calder Trophy, which is awarded to the league’s Rookie of the Year—and which Larkin just might win next summer.
The kid might want to clear some space for a Hart Trophy. Or two.
The Hart goes to the league MVP, and no Red Wing has won that since Sergei Fedorov in 1994.
Four Stanley Cups have been won since then, but never have the Red Wings had a serious candidate for the Hart Trophy.
That has been a testament to the multitude of great hockey players that have passed through Detroit over the past two decades.
The Red Wings Way—and the path to that quartet of Cups—has never been to rely on one stud player. The Red Wings won by coming at you in waves. If they were a baseball team, their batting order would be lethal, one through nine.
Hence no league MVPs despite the overwhelming team success.
I’m not saying that Dylan Larkin is a no-brainer as an MVP candidate down the line, but he seems to already possess the ingredients.
He scores. He assists. He’s the best player on the ice on many nights. His hockey IQ is in the vicinity of genius.
And the Red Wings are, arguably, being led by him right now.
Larkin is tied for the team lead in points (21, with Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Tatar), but his plus-19 rating is 13 ahead of the next highest (Jonathan Ericsson).
Larkin leads the Red Wings in game-winning goals (3), even strength goals (11) and just plain goals (again, 11). His only weakness seems to be on the power play, where he hasn’t put the puck into the net—yet.
Larkin leads the team in shots on goal and, if they kept such a statistic, he would lead in Smiles Put on the Faces of Fans.
We’re not used to this in Detroit when it comes to our hockey.
The Red Wings have always been about grizzle, not peach fuzz.
On Opening Night, Larkin became the first teenager to crack the Red Wings roster out of training camp in 25 years.
He came out of the gate playing as if he’d been in the NHL for a decade: whip smart ice presence, composure, patience and guile, all beyond his years.
There’s also the physical gifts that Larkin possesses—and which you either have or you don’t—such as speed, power skating ability, and more upper body strength than I originally thought he had.
Some folks wonder if Larkin will hit the so-called rookie “wall,” because playing a truncated schedule in college is nothing like the 82-game grind of the NHL.
True, but Larkin is 19. He’ll never have more energy in his life than right now.
The Red Wings, with the addition of Larkin to the mix, are continuing to shout down the naysayers who, a few years ago, thought this team was on a collision course with a mini-rebuild.
One of the naysayers is banging this out on his keyboard right now.
How foolish of us to doubt the Red Wings’ crack staff of procurers of personnel, who scavenge the Earth from Flin Flon to Omsk year-round, trying to find the next Pavel Datsyuk or even the next Joakim Andersson.
And just like that, the roster is filled with the likes of Tatar and Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan up front, and Danny DeKeyser, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith on the blue line—all to complement the veteran presence that is still very strong in the Winged Wheel.
And there’s Dylan Larkin.
The Red Wings are being led on many nights by a kid.
The entire NHL is being led by him, in the plus/minus category.
The question no longer is, Should Dylan Larkin make the Red Wings out of training camp?
It’s, Where would they be without him?