A projected two-way center with high-end offensive capability, center Dylan Larkin of the United States National Team Development Program Under-18 team is a prime candidate to be an early-round choice in the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, June 27-28.
"He's probably one of the best skaters we've had come through the program in a long time," U-18 coach Danton Cole said. "But he's also diligent; he's interested in his defensive zone. He wants to be a Steve Yzerman-type player."
Larkin, No. 17 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of the top draft-eligible skaters in North America, had 31 goals, six power-play goals and 56 points in 60 games. In 28 games against teams in the United States Hockey League, he had 17 goals and 28 points.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound left-handed shooter scored extraordinarily well in several key areas according to Central Scouting, including work ethic, defensive reliability and communication with teammates and coaches. He also is a proven penalty killer and power-play performer.
The native of Waterford, Mich., native has been productive since the start of the season, when he had a goal and an assist to help Team Mark Johnson to a 5-2 victory against Team Joe Mullen at the USA/CCM All-American Top Prospects Game in September.
"He skates well and has great closing speed, uses his body well," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "He has skill but is not afraid of using physical play for puck possession. He has good vision and playmaking."
Prior to moving about 45 miles south to join the USNTDP in Ann Arbor, Larkin excelled for the Belle Tire midget minor program.
"I had a great four years there, especially since I was playing with a lot of talented players who will probably be drafted this year like Brendan Perlini (Niagara, OHL), Joshua Jacobs (Green Bay, USHL) and Aaron Haydon (Niagara, OHL)," Larkin said. "I think about all the championships we won with the team. That really taught me how to prepare for those big championship games."
Larkin, who has been committed to the University of Michigan for some time, was drafted in the 10th round (No. 184) by the Erie Otters in the 2012 Ontario Hockey League priority draft.
He was asked if skating with projected top 2015 draft-eligible center Connor McDavid in Erie is something he would consider next season.
"I played with [2015 draft-eligible center] Jack Eichel [for the NTDP] and he's a pretty good player too, so that was fun," Larkin said. "I'm a Jack Eichel fan anyway. I always wanted to play at Michigan. I committed four years ago so it has been a long wait. I'm looking forward to going."
Larkin said winning a gold medal for the United States at the 2014 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Finland has been the highlight of his hockey career. He had two goals, four points and a plus-3 rating in six games while serving as an assistant captain.
"We put in a lot of time to prepare for that tournament, and to do it with the 22 guys you worked so hard with during the season was pretty special," he said.
At the NHL Scouting Combine in May, Larkin interviewed with all 30 NHL teams. His primary goal was to establish his personality and speak honestly and openly.
"You can't be a robot," he said.
Larkin credited linemate Ryan Hitchcock, No. 131 on Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters for always putting him in good position to shoot the puck this season. Still, he believes he has the proper mix of playmaking and scoring ability.
He is also a big advocate playing a two-way game.
"It's something you see [in the NHL] and what you have to do," Larkin said. "You must come back hard every chance you get. Coaches need to know you are effective at both ends of the ice."
Cole feels Larkin's two-way game has improved tremendously over the course of one year, leaving little doubt that his "Steve Yzerman-like" tendencies might not be too far-fetched.
"He has the offense, can score and skate, but he's also learned the little subtleties needed to play the center position," Cole said. "He's taken an unbelievable mature approach; kind of an NHL-repertoire approach to practices and games. He's training to be really good at it and his progress has been great."