Detroit Red Wings prospect Dylan Larkin has met his share of challenges on his road to trying to earn an NHL roster spot.
In his first season at the University of Michigan in 2014-15, he was named the Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Year. He was arguably the best player for the United States at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, and he surprised Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill with his play in Grand Rapids during the American Hockey League playoffs late last season.
Blashill, who coached Larkin with the Grand Rapids Griffins before replacing Mike Babcock as Detroit coach, is anxious to see what more Larkin can muster in his first NHL training camp in September.
Dylan Larkin grabbed coach Jeff Blashill's attention while playing in the AHL. (Photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI)
"Dylan did a real good job when he stepped in for us in the AHL playoffs," Blashill told MLive.com. "To step in and have the impact he had, he didn't look good as a young player. He was good.
"How close is he? He's certainly close. What does that mean come camp? We'll see. Everybody takes different journeys to the get to the NHL. How quickly those journeys are depends on the player and the work they put in this summer."
Larkin, selected in the first round (No. 15) of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Red Wings, signed a three-year, entry-level contract on May 21, 2015. He ranked second at Michigan in goals (15) and points (47), and finished tied for first with 32 assists. His 47 points were second in the nation among freshmen, behind Boston University's Jack Eichel, who was selected No. 2 in the 2015 draft by the Buffalo Sabres.
"Obviously, he had an interesting year," Blashill said. "He was one of the elite college freshmen that I've seen in a long time just in terms of his production. He was overshadowed by Jack Eichel, but his production was phenomenal."
Larkin joined the Griffins during the AHL's Western Conference Final and had three goals and five points in six games.
"To go into the final four of the American League playoffs; there was lots of NHL-caliber players on the ice and again, he didn't just look good as a young player and maybe what his potential was going to be," Blashill said. "I thought his impact was really good. So, it was a great year for him. But now, what's next?"
Larkin will participate in his first Traverse City Prospects Tournament beginning Sept. 11 and afterward will remain in the Michigan resort community for training camp.
"You never know how guys are going to step in," Blashill said. "What I think helped him was coming off the World Championship and having the confidence of coming off the World Championship and playing in a men's tournament was a positive thing for him in order to help his adjustment.
"Did it surprise me? Yes. For him to have the impact he had, some of that is opportunity. Tomas Nosek got hurt in Game 2, so he really jumped into a big role right away and did a great job within that role."
Nosek had two goals and seven points in 12 AHL playoff games before sustaining an upper-body injury, which created an opening for Larkin.