DETROIT >> Dylan Larkin will make the Detroit Red Wings’ roster out of training camp on one condition: if new coach Jeff Blashill wants him in the lineup.
“My take on Larkin would be he’s got to be in our top 12,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “Coach Blashill’s got to say to me, ‘I want him in the lineup.’ He’s not going to be our 13th, 14th forward. Realistically, just to put him on the fourth line and play eight minutes, I think he’s a real good young player with a lot of potential.
“He’s going to be real important to our franchise as we go forward,” Holland continued. “We want to make sure we do what’s right for him and us. If he comes and is a legitimate top-nine forward we’re going to find a way to get him in the lineup. If he’s less than that then we’ll sit down as an organization and decide.”
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.
“I thought he did a great job,” Blashill said of Larkin’s stint with the Griffins. “I think sometimes with a young player you look at them and get excited about what they could be and you see that potential. With him I thought he stepped right in our lineup and helped us win hockey games at the toughest moment with only three teams left in the American Hockey League. There were lots of guys that will play in the NHL on that ice so I thought he did a great job.
“It’s a tiny sample size,” Blashill continued. “He’s seemed to have passed all the tests in terms of small sample sizes, the World Championships, World Juniors, his freshman year at Michigan. He’s going to be a real good player, we’ll see when.”
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.
“I still have a lot of work to do and still have a lot of hockey to play so I’m just trying to focus on the development camp and get better for the training camp,” Larkin said. “I think I want to make the jump. I signed for a chance to play in the NHL and after my time in Grand Rapids, I’m more than comfortable spending time there. The coaches they brought in and the players we have we’re going to have a good team again.”
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.
“We’ll see in camp how ready he is to make an impact,” Blashill said. “Like Ken said, can you make an impact? If you can make an impact and make our team better that’s great. If we’re not convinced of that then let’s let him continue to grow as a player so when he does come here he can make an impact right away. I think everybody saw that happen with Gustav Nyquist. That’s a great example of a guy, people said he should have been up early, I don’t know, all I know is when he came up he made an immediate impact and continues to so I think that’s the right formula.”
Larkin, who is very competitive and plays a 200-foot game, back checks hard and is conscientious defensively, won’t be disappointed if the team decides to have him play a full season with the Griffins.
“I think Grand Rapids, if I’m there for the whole year or most of the year or however long, I’ll develop better with the younger group of guys and the new coach that I’ve heard great things about,” said Larkin, who doesn’t turn 19 until July 30. “I think I need to get stronger. I think every player can always get stronger in the weight room and physically stronger. You can always be better in the defensive zone. That’s something I’m working on, faceoffs and little details.”