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Larkin approaching his NHL debut like ‘it’s just another game’

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)

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)


DETROIT >> Dylan Larkin is taking a pretty simple approach to his first NHL game.

“It’s just another game,” Larkin said Friday morning after the Wings’ morning skate at Joe Louis Arena as they prepared to host the Toronto Maple Leafs later that night. “It’s pretty exciting, home opener, playing against Toronto and coach Babcock is going to be exciting, there’s going to be a real buzz. I’m just trying to get ready to do what I need to do.”

Larkin played in five preseason games against veteran lineups that included Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron. He totaled three goals and an assist.

“I couldn’t help but to just smile,” Larkin said when he was told the news he had made the team out of training camp. “It was exciting. To call my parents and tell them I was playing Friday was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. We’re here, it’s Friday and I’m just trying to
get ready to play.”

He’s the first teenager in 25 years to make their NHL debut on opening night. Mike Sillinger was the last Wing to do so.

“I feel ready,” Larkin said. “I think my whole life I’ve been dreaming about this. Going through camp has got me ready for this.”

Larkin will play on the top line Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

“It’s pretty easy to play with him,” Larkin said of playing with Zetterberg. “I try and just focus on getting open and I know he’s going to find me at some point. As far as him being a mentor, a leader, it’s unbelievable just watching him in practice. He makes things so easy for me.

“He makes it pretty comfortable,” Larkin added. “He’s such a nice guy and he always has a smile on his face around the rink. Ever since I can remember watching the Red Wings he’s been on the team. Just to play with him and be here tonight is something I’ll never forget.”

Franzen ready to return to lineup, feels like he hasn’t played in a year or two

Detroit Red Wings left wing Johan Franzen (93) shoots as Pittsburgh Penguins' Sergei Gonchar (55) defends during the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Red Wings left wing Johan Franzen (93) shoots as Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sergei Gonchar (55) defends during the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)


DETROIT >> It hasn’t been quite a year yet since Johan Franzen last played in a regular season game, but for him it feels like an eternity.

“I’ve just been working out all summer so I’m looking forward to it,” Franzen said Friday morning after the Wings’ morning skate at Joe Louis Arena as they prepared to host the Toronto Maple Leafs later that night. “I missed hockey a lot.

“I don’t know when I got hurt last season, but it feels like I haven’t played in a year or two,” Franzen added. “At least that’s how it feels. I’m really excited to get started tonight. Hopefully I won’t get too nervous or too excited that I forget about the details. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be great.”

Franzen has suffered multi concussions in his career, the last of which occurred last season after a blind-side hit by Edmonton’s Rob Klinkhammer last January. He finished the game, but began experiencing concussion-like symptoms the next day.

He didn’t return the rest of the season.

“Not really,” Franzen said when asked if he ever thought there was a chance he’d not return playing. “I was in a dark place for a while, but it was never really on my mind that it would stay like that forever. My focus was getting back to playing. I was like that the whole time.”

Franzen, 35, was cleared to resume playing prior to the start of training camp.

He said up until the time of training camp that his headaches weren’t completely gone, but they’re not as severe.

“Not too nervous, but you can get a little too excited because it’s the first game and you forget about what you’re supposed to do out there,” Franzen said. “Hopefully I can keep that under control and play a solid game.”

Franzen, who has been limited to just 128 regular season games over the last three seasons, played in 33 games a year ago, picking up seven goals and 15 assists.

He’s skating on a line with Teemu Pulkkinen and centered by Riley Sheahan.

Also prior to training camp, Franzen, who has 187 goals and 182 assists in 600 regular season games with the Wings, said that he wasn’t going to think about the possibility of suffering another concussion.

Franzen has 42 goals and 39 assists in 107 playoff games.

Cleary placed on waivers; could be heading to Grand Rapids if he clears by noon on Thursday

Detroit Red Wings left wing Daniel Cleary (11) trips Boston Bruins center Alex Khokhlachev (76) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)

Detroit Red Wings left wing Daniel Cleary (11) trips Boston Bruins center Alex Khokhlachev (76) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)


DETROIT >> Daniel Cleary’s days with the Wings appear to be over after being waived. If he clears by noon Thursday he can be assigned to Grand Rapids.

“He’s on waivers right now, so we have a 24-hour period,” first-year Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “We’ll see at noon how that goes. I don’t want to speculate on anything besides he’s on waivers right now.”

The move was done to clear a roster spot for Jakub Kindl, who’s been sidelined with an eye infection.

Cleary, 35, signed a one-year deal last month worth $950,000. If he’s assigned to the Griffins his entire salary come off the cap.

Larkin will start on Wings’ top line Friday night

Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin celebrates his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin celebrates his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)


DETROIT >> Dylan Larkin will start on the top alone on the wing with Justin Abdelkader and Henrik Zetterberg, centering.

“We think Dylan Larkin is a very good player, that’s why he’s on the opening night roster and as such we’re going to put him in positions to hopefully be successful,” Blashill said.

Brad Richards will center the second line with Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, while Riley Sheahan center Johan Franzen and Teemu Pulkkinen. Luke Glendening centers the fourth line with Drew Miller and Landon Ferraro.

“I’d like to have four lines that can play and four lines that we feel real confident on the ice with in both defensive and offensive situations,” first-year coach Jeff Blashill said. “We try to match our lines up with some speed, some skill, some size and some net front. So there’s a lot of things that go into combinations.

Tomas Jurco and Joakim Andersson will be healthy scratches.

The defensemen pairings are Jonathan Ericsson-Niklas Kronwall; Kyle Quincey-Mike Green and Brendan Smith-Jakub Kindl.

Blashill tabs Howard to start opening night; Mrazek goes Saturday

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard celebrates after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 in a NHL hockey game in Detroit Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard celebrates after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 in a NHL hockey game in Detroit Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)


DETROIT >> First-year coach Jeff Blashill didn’t waste any time announcing his starting lineup for Friday night’s season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

And his starting goalie will be Jimmy Howard.

“I think there are lots of things that go into the decision, including stats and we do as much research as we can to come up with the best decision possible,” Blashill said when asked why Howard got the nod over Petr Mrazek.

Mrazek will get the start Saturday in Carolina.

“They’ll both continue to play in a lot of the back to back situations we have this month,” Blashill said. “I would suspect they both will get an opportunity in those situations.

“We think both of them can give us great goaltending,” Blashill added. “For multiple reasons we decided to have one start Friday and one start Saturday. We could reverse it and I’d feel just as confident going into those games that we’re going to get great goaltending.”

This will be Howard’s sixth season-opening start.

Both goalies had very similar numbers in four preseason appearances. Howard was 3-0-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage, while Mrazek was 2-0-1 with a 1.99 GAA and a .939 save percentage.

“You always reserve the right, things do change, but I plan going in that we feel real confident both will get games in those back-to-back situations,” Blashill said. “And how we do that will depend on a lot of things, different types of statistical information.”

Detroit plays back-to-back games every weekend during October.

Howard began last season as the Wings’ No. 1 goalie and put in an All-Star performance in the first half, going 16-7-7 with a goals-against average of 2.08 and a save percentage of .921.

But after being sidelined with a torn groin for more than a month he was never the same goalie when he returned.

While he was out, Mrazek went 10-1-1 and eventually got named the starter for the postseason.

Kindl excited for new chance, new role, under new coach

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DETROIT >> If there was any player that needed a fresh start it could definitely be Jakub Kindl.

And he got that when his former coach, Mike Babcock, left for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Wings hired Jeff Blashill.

“When you look around, it’s not just me,” Kindl said. “I think we’re all on the same page. New coaching style, he’s got new plans, he’s got new visions. I’m just here to … again, let’s hope I have a bigger chance.

“I’m just trying to enjoy as much as I can,” Kindl continued. “I’ve been here long enough so I know what position I’m into. It’s a fresh start. It’s a new season for everybody, not just for me.”

Kindl could never seem to play his way out of Babcock’s doghouse the last two seasons with his lack of competitiveness always being cited as to the reason why many times he was a healthy scratch.

“I always try to have confidence, even when I wasn’t playing enough,” Kindl said. “Obviously, it wasn’t easy for me. You may think you have a good game and you still sit out for next time and just keep going back and forth. That was in the past. I’m just looking for a new challenge.”

A fine example of how things had gone for Kindl under Babcock came last season. After sitting out a month he returned for one game and registered a goal, an assist and was a plus-1. He was a healthy scratch the next nine games and didn’t make his way back into the lineup until the regular-season finale.

“How often (does) it happen a guy puts up two points or have a good game and the next thing you know he sits for 10 games,” Kindl said. “But that’s in the past. I don’t want to have that in my mind. I’m just excited for this new chance.”

Kindl, 28, also appeared in just one of the seven games in the first round playoff series with Tampa Bay, the series finale.

So far things appear to be heading in the right direction for Kindl, who’s battling for a spot on the third blue line pairing with Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith. He’s got a goal, two assists and is a plus-2 in his first two preseason games.

“I think every year is different for every player, in both ways,” Blashill said. “Sometimes when it hasn’t gone as well there’s a chance to have a good year and vice versa.

“You can never rest on your laurels in this league because somebody is always chasing you from behind,” Blashill continued. “I think Kindl has good ability, he needs to continue to execute at a high level. He has so far.”

Kindl, who had a career-high five goals in just 35 games last year, is no stranger to getting power play time, averaging just under two minutes a game last season.

It’s on the penalty kill he’s beginning to learn the ropes on.

“I thought I already retired from the PK but no,” Kindl said. “It’s good. I understand we’re not going to have (Niklas Kronwall) and (Jonathan Ericsson) both play big minutes to make sure they don’t get hurt. I had the chance to play for a little bit but again, it’s good that Blash is giving me a chance to play, whether it’s the PK or the power play. It seems like he likes to play the players everywhere.”

Blashill has liked what he’s seen so far from Kindl.

“He’s made plays on the power play when there weren’t plays to be made,” Blashill said. “I think he’s done real good job. He’s gone back for pucks. But I think the biggest thing with Kindl is to get back to pucks and do a real good job of breaking the puck out, not that he can’t defend, but like lots of guys, you’re way better if you just get the puck out of your own zone.”

Kindl finished with 13 points last season.

“I always try to stay confident, even when I wasn’t playing in the past, but again, it’s not easy,” Kindl said. “So I know how to deal with those things. But again, I’m even more comfortable this year and coming to the rink even more relaxed than I did in the past and enjoying myself.”

Larkin doing everything he can to make Wings’ decision a tough one saying, “That’s my goal.”

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)

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)


DETROIT >> 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.