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Forward Dylan Larkin makes Red Wings roster

by Staff

DETROIT -- Forward Dylan Larkin will be in the Detroit Red Wings' opening-night lineup against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday.

"Yeah, I think it's awesome being here, but it would be a dream come true," Larkin said Saturday before learning Monday he made the team. "It's something that I want and it's something that I've worked for my whole life and I dreamed of. So it would be really special."

Detroit usually brings its prospects along slowly, with at least a season or two in the American Hockey League. But Larkin, a 19-year-old who is from the Detroit suburb of Waterford, Mich., forced his way onto the roster in training camp, helped in part by injuries to Pavel Datsyuk and Darren Helm.

"If a young guy makes our team better and is going to have the opportunity to play enough minutes to make our team better, then he was going to be on the team, whether that was him or somebody else," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Monday. "We feel like he's earned a chance to play in a top-nine type of role, which is going to give him minutes to be successful. So, as a result, we made a decision to put him on the team."

The last teenager to make the Red Wings roster out of training camp and play a significant amount was defenseman Jiri Fischer, who played 52 games with Detroit at 19 in 1999-00.

Larkin, the No. 15 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, passed every test this preseason.

"I played against [Patrick] Kane, [Jonathan] Toews, [Sidney] Crosby, [Patrice] Bergeron, and I think I can be right there," Larkin said. "I know it's just preseason, but with how competitive those guys are and how they were playing, I think in my career, that's the kind of player I want to be."

Larkin is a natural center but was on the wing on the Red Wings top line during practice Monday with Henrik Zetterberg at center and Justin Abdelkader. Larkin played wing on that line in Detroit's next-to-last preseason game Friday, a 4-2 win against Toronto at Joe Louis Arena.

"You never know, injuries and all, but what we've looked at is starting him with [Zetterberg] and [Abdelkader]," Blashill said. "That's something we talked about, but that could change come Friday night."

The odds were against Larkin making the team to start the season. The Red Wings are deep with forwards despite missing Datsyuk, who is recovering from surgery on ruptured tendons in his right ankle performed June 26, and Helm, who sustained a shoulder injury and slight concussion on the first day of training camp. Datsyuk and Helm are on injured reserve, with Datsyuk not expected to play until November.

"I'd say his play had to be such that he grabbed the job," Blashill said of Larkin. "I think if he didn't grab the job, the easier thing to do would be to put him in [Grand Rapids in the AHL] and see where we're at and see how his play goes. But we just felt, I specifically felt, that he makes us better. And to an exponential amount that we felt it was that important that he started on the team.

"You could ask people around the League and lots of people would say the safer thing would be to put him in [Grand Rapids], but we just feel like he's earned that spot."

Larkin, who wasn't available for comment Monday because players left for a charity golf outing, has outstanding speed, elite skill, sees the ice well, and was always on the puck during the preseason, when he scored three goals with an assist in five games.

Last season as a freshman at the University of Michigan, Larkin had 15 goals and 47 points in 35 games and was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He also was the United States' best player at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship and played on the U.S. team that won the bronze medal at the World Championship.

He finished his season by signing with Detroit and playing with Grand Rapids in the Calder Cup playoffs; he had three goals and five points in six games.

Larkin played two seasons of junior hockey with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, based in Ann Arbor, Mich. He previously played with the Belle Tire AAA Midget program based in suburban Detroit.

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