MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. -- It's July, but Dylan Larkin is thinking ahead.
"I believe I'm working as hard as I possibly can, and also resting, which is a huge part of the summer, and taking care of my body," the Detroit Red Wings center said on Tuesday. "It's just stuff you learn. After four years, your body, you feel things, and you understand if you want to play big minutes in the NHL, the big minutes matter in February, March, April and May. That's what you have to prepare for."
The Red Wings haven't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2015-16, Larkin's rookie season, when they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the Eastern Conference First Round. They finished 28th in the NHL last season.
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But they have a new general manager, Steve Yzerman, the Red Wings icon who was GM of the Lightning from 2010-18. They signed forward Valtteri Filppula and defenseman Patrik Nemeth as unrestricted free agents July 1. And led by Larkin, who turns 23 on Tuesday, they have young talent on the roster and in the system.
"I think it's all excitement," Larkin said. "I think a long summer like we've had, you can't forget the young guys that we have."
Larkin plays in the Eastside Elite summer league in suburban Detroit with forward Taro Hirose, who tied for the NCAA Division I scoring lead with 50 points (15 goals, 35 assists) for Michigan State last season, signed with the Red Wings as a free agent March 12 and had seven points (one goal, six assists) in 10 NHL games.
"You see a guy out here like Taro Hirose and how much skill he has and how dynamic he is," Larkin said at the Eastside Elite All-Star Challenge at Mount Clemens Ice Arena.
Larkin mentioned the end of forward Tyler Bertuzzi's season (five goals and eight assists in seven games), forward Anthony Mantha's performance for Canada at the IIHF World Championship (seven goals and seven assists in nine games), forward Andreas Athanasiou's breakout season (30 goals and 24 assists) and defenseman Filip Hronek, who made his NHL debut (five goals and 18 assists in 46 games).
"The list goes on," said Larkin, likely referring to players like forward Michael Rasmussen (the No. 9 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft) and forward Filip Zadina (the No. 6 pick in 2018). "There's excitement, and there's opportunity for these guys to come in and be impact players and be impact players for a long time. That fires me up because I'm pumped to get to play with them."
A year ago at this time, Larkin said he wanted to be "the guy," counted on in all situations like centers Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg had been for so long in Detroit.
"It's that next step where superstars are, and that's where I want to be," he said then.
Well, he took a huge step last season. Larkin scored 32 goals, twice as many as he did the season before. He had 73 points, 10 more than the NHL career high he had set the season before. He also set NHL career highs in several other categories, including shots (287), shooting percentage (11.1), average ice time (21:51) and face-off winning percentage (54.5).
"He had more of a shooting mentality, first of all, and he just seemed hungrier around the net," said Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who also plays in the Eastside Elite summer league. "He's a speed guy. I think maybe in his first couple years he was swinging away from the net, just to get up and down the ice. But it seemed like last year he was in more battles around the net, banging pucks home, getting dirtier goals."
"Where I created offense from is repeatable," Larkin said. "I'm looking at all that and trying to replicate that this year."
Larkin also switched to a Warrior stick that fit him well and got shots off quicker after working with Red Wings player development consultant Brandon Naurato.
"I don't have an elite release," Larkin said. "But I feel like if you get it off quick, you're going to score a lot of goals, and I feel like I did that."
Video: NJD@DET: Larkin buries wrister past Blackwood
Larkin keeps working on his overall game. After he was plus-11 as a rookie, he was minus-28, minus-9 and minus-6 the past three seasons. He had 75 penalty minutes last season, an NHL career high.
"I'm still trying to work on being better offensively but being in better shape so I can move my feet more and not take as many penalties and just be more disciplined and be a better two-way player," Larkin said. "So I've looked at it all, and I think I'm working on it all. It's been a good summer so far."
But it's all about the spring.
"I would much rather be a 60-point guy and a plus player and we're in the playoffs," Larkin said.