Detroit Red Wings left wing Teemu Pulkkinen (56) and center Dylan Larkin, right, celebrate after the Red Wings defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-1 in a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. Both players had two goals apiece. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Dylan Larkin didn’t hesitate at all when asked if he’s doing all he can to make the Wings’ decision on where he starts the season.
“Yeah, that’s my goal,” Larkin said after Detroit’s 6-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena. “I think every game I’m trying to get stronger and really trying to work on my team game and in the defensive zone and keep moving forward.”
Larkin finished with a pair of goals in the victory in just over 15 minutes of ice time.
“I couldn’t help but smile,” Larkin said about first goal with the Wings. “It was a real cool feeling to hear that goal horn and put it in the back of the night. Somehow I’m going to remember that for a long time.
“Being a hometown kid you grew up being a fan,” Larkin continued. “I don’t know if I relate to them or what. I think they’re really rooting for me as a hometown kid. That’s pretty cool to see all that support. I must have had hundreds of family and friends from Waterford here today, from all over Michigan. It was pretty cool to look up in the stands and see a whole lot of familiar faces in my first game at the Joe.”
He also had one disallowed when Tyler Bertuzzi was called for being in the crease.
“He’s got to be better today than somebody else that would have that spot,” first-year coach Jeff Blashill said when asked if Larkin could make this roster. “Better means lots of things. Better means playing a good 200-foot game. Better means within the role that he would be competing for.
“It might be a production thing, it might be a penalty-kill thing, it might a power-play thing,” Blashill continued. “But I don’t think he’s alone. I think there’s a whole group of young guys who are starting to push to wanting to be NHL players. But I think that’s a great thing. Ken Holland talked about it at training camp. You’re going to have lots of injuries throughout the year, and you have to rely on your organization’s depth and I think the fact that a young guy makes the team out of camp or not, the organization’s depth is something that can provide us an opportunity for success.”
Larkin, who slipped to Detroit at 15th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, is regarded as the Wings’ top prospect, even ahead of Anthony Mantha, who struggled his first year as a pro in Grand Rapids.
All the speculation began when the Waterford native decided to leave the University of Michigan after one season and sign a three-year entry level contract with the Wings.
After signing the deal he joined the Grand Rapids Griffins, playing on an amateur tryout contract, just in time for their Western Conference finals series with Utica.
In six games he had three goals and two assists under the watchful eye of Blashill.
He then had a goal and four assists at the Prospects Tournament prior to training camp as well.
But like many in the Wings’ organization, they really young players to mature in the American Hockey League before joining the NHL club on a fulltime basis, just ask Gustav Nyquist.
“Again, I think Dylan has a maturity level way beyond his years,” Blashill said. “That’s one thing that struck me right away when he came to play for us last year in Grand Rapids. He has a real maturity level to him. He’s got a real good quiet confidence. He doesn’t have that fake bravado confidence. He’s just a confident kid, but a down-to-earth kid. He doesn’t let things bother him and he’s very competitive. That’s not to say there’s not errors, yes, he does need to continue to grow in, but sometimes that competitiveness gets the best of him. But he’s a real, real mature person.”
Larkin, who’s a two-way center, was the unanimous winner of the Big Ten’s freshman of the year award, leading the conference’s first-year players in goals (15), assists (32) and points (47) in 35 games with the Wolverines. He also was a plus-18.
He also led Michigan with 15 power play points (six goals) and with 151 shots on goal.
At the World Juniors, he led Team USA in goals (five), points (seven) and tied in plus-minus (plus-seven) in five games, which helped Larkin earn a spot on the U.S. World Championship roster, where he had an assist in 10 games.
Larkin, who is very competitive and plays a 200-foot game, back checks hard and is conscientious defensively, has said he won’t be disappointed if the team decides to have him play a full season with the Griffins.