DETROIT -- For Dylan Larkin, the 2020-21 season began as somewhat of a Cinderella story.
The 24-year-old hockey prodigy from metro Detroit who's played his entire career in the state of Michigan was named captain for the Original Six franchise that he grew up idolizing, his hometown Detroit Red Wings.
"It's hard to put into words," Larkin said after being named captain on January 13. "I understand the significance of this role. I've seen it my whole life, been around, been a fan, been around fans, been to games, to know what it means to not only be a Detroit Red Wing, to now be the captain, I couldn't be more honored."
In his first season donning the 'C' in Hockeytown, Larkin scored nine goals and tallied 14 assists for 23 points in only 44 games after being sidelined with multiple injuries, including a neck injury on April 20, which forced him to miss the final eight games of the campaign.
Despite a small dip in offensive numbers, Larkin used this season as a huge opportunity to learn, grow and continue to develop into a complete, 200-foot player.
"Ultimately, I see Dylan Larkin as an outstanding two-way player," said executive vice president & general manager Steve Yzerman in his season-ending press conference. "I don't ever expect or think we need him to lead the League in scoring. I want him to be a good player at both ends of the rink and focus on that. Whatever the goal totals turn out to be, they will be good enough.
"My goal for him is to strive to be one of the best two-way players in the game. He has the skills, the strength, the skating ability and the work ethic to do that."
Larkin agreed with his general manager about his continued increased focus on developing that complete game.
"When we talk, it's a lot about the defensive side of the puck and playing the right way," Larkin said about his conversations with Yzerman. "It's something I've tried to focus on. When you do that as a centerman, it doesn't (necessarily) hurt your offense, but you're thinking defensively and you're not cheating. It's playing the right way. I'm still a young guy and I'm still learning, and I thought I took some strides toward that this year."
Video: Dylan Larkin | End of Season Media Availability
Larkin said improving on the defensive end will eventually lead to more offense, and he pointed to some of the best two-way centers in the NHL as perfect examples.
"When I play great defense, I have the puck more, and that's what I want. I want the puck on my stick," the captain said. "That's where I want to be better. I want to be quicker playing defense so I can be fresh playing offense. You watch guys like (Boston's Patrice) Bergeron and (St. Louis') Ryan O'Reilly, they always do the right things and they're hard on the puck."
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill has been Larkin's coach since he joined the Grand Rapids Griffins as an 18-year-old for the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2015, and said Larkin's leadership and work ethic are immeasurable.
"Ultimately, Dylan is the leader of this team," Blashill said. "If your best players are those great two-way winners, it starts to build towards being a winning hockey team. And Dylan knows that, and he's worked extremely hard at it over the six years we've been together. His work ethic, his compete are second to none. I've seen him go against the very best players in this league and beat them on a game-to-game basis."
Video: CAR@DET: Larkin nets redirection off two defenders
Yzerman agreed with Blashill's assessment of Larkin's intangibles that don't necessarily show up on the stat sheet from game to game.
"I don't think there is ever anyone that would question his work ethic, his competitiveness in any game that he played," Yzerman said. "I would never come home from a game thinking that Dylan didn't bring it tonight. He is a really good person; he really cares about the Red Wings. Overall, his numbers, goals, statistically aren't great, but I think he played well, and I think he played hard.
"His leadership, his work ethic, his determination are very important, even when the numbers aren't there. As the talent level of our team improves, as we get more balanced, I am not too worried about the production."
Video: TBL@DET: Larkin buries feed from Hronek
Larkin said he's proud of the trust and respect he's developed with Yzerman throughout their working relationship.
"It's huge coming from a guy like him," Larkin said about Yzerman's effusive praise. "Someone that's won and is so well respected, his words carry a lot of weight. I'm someone that he doesn't have to tell me things twice. I listen and I try and bring it into my game.
"We've had some good conversations where he's told me I have to be better, and I know that and a lot of guys in our room know that. I have a lot of respect for him and I feel he has respect for me as well."
As for the season-ending injury he sustained against the Dallas Stars on April 20, Larkin spent a few nights in the hospital, but he avoided surgery and has been resting at his home since the end of the season.
Larkin said while he'd like to start preparing for next season immediately, he's got to take his recovery seriously and let it get better day by day.
"I believe what the doctors are telling me and believe in the plan," Larkin said. "Right now, the most important thing is resting and letting it heal. I believe I got pretty lucky, and I don't have to have surgery. It's something minor that needs time to heal."
But Larkin assured the Hockeytown faithful that he'll be ready to go when the 2021-22 season begins in October.
"I'll be able to start rehabbing here soon and then be training by mid-June and then on the ice," he said. "I will be ready for the start of the season."