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Dylan Larkin completes unique journey to Red Wings captaincy

The 24-year-old center has played his entire hockey career in metro Detroit, becomes first Michigan-born captain in franchise history

by Josh Berenter @DetroitRedWings / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- On Wednesday, January 13, Detroit Red Wings center and lifelong Michigander Dylan Larkin saw another chapter added to his incredible hockey journey, officially being named the 37th captain in franchise history.

The 24-year-old was informed of the honor by Red Wings executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman on Tuesday night during a private meeting, and the team was notified in the dressing room Wednesday morning at Little Caesars Arena.

Larkin said as a lifelong Red Wings fan, he knows the cache that surrounds the captain position in Detroit, and he said it's an indescribable feeling to know that he's now the one donning the 'C' for the Wings.

Video: Dylan Larkin | Detroit Red Wings Captain Media

"It's hard to put into words," said Larkin, who became the first Michigan-born captain in franchise history and just the third Red Wings captain in the last 34 years. "I think 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.

"It's very exciting, it's hard to put into words, but this means so much to me and I couldn't be more honored and thankful for all the fans that have supported me and our team along the way."

Larkin grew up in Waterford and started skating almost before he could walk. He was immediately hooked on hockey, spending hours shooting pucks at a net in his driveway, honing his craft at a young age.

The metro Detroit native has played his entire career in Michigan, beginning his hockey journey under his uncle Paul for the Lakeland Hawks before playing for local amateur programs Honeybaked and Belle Tire AAA.

He then went on to play for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor and remained in Ann Arbor to play collegiately at the University of Michigan in 2014-15 under former Red Wings center Red Berenson.

Larkin was selected by the Red Wings with the 15th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft and debuted professionally with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins during their postseason run in 2014-15. But Larkin never returned to Grand Rapids, as he earned a spot on the Wings' roster out of training camp the next season and made his NHL debut for his hometown team on October 9, 2015.

In that debut, Larkin became the first teenager to play for the Red Wings since 2003. The rookie made his presence immediately felt in the toughest league in the world, earning a goal and an assist in his first NHL game and beginning his rookie season with a five-game point streak.

Larkin's debut campaign was so impressive, he earned a spot in the 2016 NHL All-Star Game, becoming the first Red Wings rookie to be an All-Star since Yzerman in 1984.

Still a teenager, Larkin finished the 2015-16 season with 45 points on 23 goals and 22 assists in 80 games and capped off his incredible rookie campaign by becoming the first American-born player in franchise history to score 20 goals in their first NHL season.

Larkin was limited to just 32 points in 2016-17, but he didn't make any excuses and continued feverishly working on his game, earning more respect from his teammates and coaches.

Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said that tough 2016-17 season is when Larkin grew the most in his career.

"Year two, those conversations were hard. It was a hard year for him," Blashill said. "Some of that was certain habits he had to change, and sometimes you lose ice time as you're learning to change those habits.

"Even in those moments, you could always tell that he was reflecting on it after the conversations and had an understanding that ultimately, what I was trying to do was help. Dylan, because of who he is, understood that. That understanding, that ability to look in the mirror, is what's allowed him to continue to grow into one of the better winners in this league."

Larkin embraced tough coaching and bounced back in 2017-18 with a career-high 63 points on 16 goals and 47 assists. The center played all 82 games for the first time in his career and led the team in points.

Video: Dylan Larkin | Detroit Red Wings Captain

On October 3, 2018, at the age of 22, Larkin was named one of four alternate team captains. He again led the club in points in 2018-19, setting new career highs in goals with 32 and points with 73.

And last season, Larkin led the Red Wings in points for the third consecutive year, centering a budding top line with Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha. Larkin again skated in every Red Wings game, earning 53 points in the abbreviated campaign before the NHL was shut down due to COVID-19.

But despite Larkin's individual success in 2019-20, the Red Wings finished with the worst record in the NHL. Larkin said he's going to do everything in his power to make sure his team never goes through that type of adversity again.

"Last year was a difficult year. I think the growth, from me, is I had a plan in my mind of what I can do to make sure our team wasn't in that position again," the captain said. "It was a year where you had to look in the mirror a lot, and you had to find your passion and your love for the game, and I think that helped me realize what kind of player I want to be. I put in the work and I know a lot of guys in our locker room put in the work to make sure we're not in that spot again."

In just over five years, Larkin has transformed from a baby-faced teenager to a respected leader in the Red Wings dressing room. The Wings hadn't named a team captain the last two seasons, but Blashill said this is the right time for Larkin to get the 'C' because he's earned it.

"To lead people, you have to have respect of those that you're leading. There's zero doubt that Dylan has the respect of every person in that room-players, coaches, staff," Blashill said. "Because of his work ethic--he's got an incredible inner drive. Because of his competitiveness--how much he wants to win, how much he wants this organization to get back to the top. Because of his care for others--how he treats people, he's just really got a genuine care. His selflessness--he's just got the ultimate respect of every guy in that room."

Video: Dylan Larkin | Detroit Red Wings Captain History

Larkin said he was honored to learn that he was named captain from a legend like Yzerman and said the Wings' GM told him not to let being captain change who he is as a person.

"He did say to not put too much pressure on myself, to not change who you are, just because you have a letter on your jersey," Larkin said about his meeting with Yzerman on Tuesday. "He said continue being yourself, it got you here, the guys respect you and just be yourself.

"I think hearing that was great, it meant a lot. He's one of the best to ever wear a 'C' on his jersey, so we had a great conversation and I feel very comfortable with our relationship and how he feels about me as a player and person. I'm very honored that he looks at me as a person that can wear the 'C' for the Detroit Red Wings."

Yzerman said he's respected Larkin's game and his demeanor on and off the ice as long as he's known him--going back to junior hockey--and Yzerman said Larkin was a natural fit for captain.

"He stands out as a leader in his work ethic, his competitiveness, his inner drive to be really good, to win, and he's a really good person," Yzerman said. "He's a mature young man, he's responsible, he cares. He's got a lot of those natural characteristics that make him a leader and a perfect fit for our captain."

Video: Steve Yzerman | Detroit Red Wings Media

While he's learned a lot about wearing the 'C' from Yzerman, Larkin said that the opportunity to play with and watch Detroit's most recent captain, Henrik Zetterberg, was an invaluable experience.

"From my first day (on the team), I always watched him and everything he did," said Larkin, who played three seasons with Zetterberg. "Henrik was the ultimate captain to me. He did everything the right way. Whatever was going on in the locker room, he had his thumb on it. He was all over it, he knew everything going on with the guys. He handled it like a captain should.

"All the guys respected him as great as I've seen anyone respected and that carried onto the ice, and it's the reason why he was so beloved in our locker room. I hope one day, people can respect me like they respected Henrik Zetterberg. I couldn't thank him enough for the person he is and how's he's handed the torch onto me."

Another former Red Wings captain that Larkin has tried to emulate is Hall of Famer and Production Line member Ted Lindsay. But Larkin has mostly followed Lindsay's lead off the ice, investing in the metro Detroit community.

Larkin has always generously volunteered his time and resources in the community where he was raised. The captain has selflessly participated in initiatives like Special Olympics of Michigan, the Larkin Hockey School he runs with his brother and through various events with the Red Wings community relations team.

And in April, Larkin and his father, Kevin, donated 50,000 vinyl powder-free and nitrile gloves to the DMC and St. Joe's to help frontline workers stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Larkin said making an impact off the ice is as important as his performance on the ice.

"Ted told me that there's much more to being a Red Wing than just what you do on the ice," Larkin said. "It's being in the community, it's meeting fans, shaking their hands, being respectful. To me, what it means to be a Red Wing is play as hard as you can on the ice and you're available to the fans and visiting kids and doing what it takes to be a good human being in the community."

Larkin said he loves connecting with the community and knowing that the fans support him and the team as much as he and the team support them.

"It means a lot. I'm not that active on social media, but with fans tweeting me or tweeting the team, we all see it, we all greatly appreciate it," he said. "It's what drives us, especially in a year where we won't be able to see them in the stands, but we'll know they're watching, so I appreciate their support."

And while he loves the support from the community, nothing is as important as family, and Larkin was especially thrilled to share the news about his captaincy with his parents, waiting to break the news, safely, in person.

"It was special, it was really special," Larkin said. "I waited until they were both home from work last night and wanted to tell them in person. They were very proud. I was with my girlfriend and my brother was there. It was one of the more special moments of my career, being able to tell them in person and give them a big hug."

Larkin's father, Kevin, said his son's story is like a Hollywood script, written for a movie. 

"It's a huge thrill for my wife and I and the whole Larkin family. It's a great story," Kevin Larkin said. "A local boy dreamed about playing for the Red Wings and here he is now named captain. It's amazing. He's given us five great years of action-packed achievements and accomplishments, and this is the best one yet. It's a dream come true for all of us."

The new captain said earning the 'C' for his hometown team is a dream come true, but Larkin emphasized that his job has ultimately just begun and the real work starts now as the Red Wings begin the 2021 season and look to return to prominence.

"I couldn't have ever dreamt it to be like this, but just tried to be myself every day and have a great support system, have great teammates that allow me to do that," Larkin said. "And it continues, it doesn't stop here. I'm very honored to be the captain of the Detroit Red Wings, I'll try my best to be a leader every day, on and off the ice, for my teammates, for the city and I'm pretty excited."

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