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Larkin gets right to work for Wings

Second-year forward will be used at center in preseason and hopefully beyond

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - The Red Wings have plans for Dylan Larkin so he didn't want to wait to get them started.

Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he wants to try Larkin at center this season after playing him primarily at wing in his rookie year.

"I think the biggest challenge will just be face-offs, to be honest with you," Blashill said. "He's, to me, got a skill set that lends itself to center maybe even better than wing because he likes to hunt the puck and guys that come back in the zone and like to hunt pucks are better off at center because at wing you're really forced to stop in your areas, whereas at center you can kind of anticipate where the puck's going, go get it and get out of your zone.

"I know when I talked to the world championship staff, the USA Hockey world championship staff, John Hynes said he thought his defensive instincts were better at center. I just think it comes down to how quickly he can get real good at face-offs."

Larkin and the rest of the World Cup players did not have to report to Traverse City when their teams were eliminated but Larkin arrived Friday afternoon with the intention of participating Saturday.

"I wanted to come up here," Larkin said. "I was just in Toronto for a week and half, it was kind of busy, a lot of things going on. I thought about coming up here and being with the team. I already went through the first few games where I wasn't feeling well after the summer, getting my legs back into it so I just figured I'd keep it going and continue the pace of play that we were at in the World Cup."

Larkin was part of Team North America, the under-23 players from the United States and Canada.

"I don't know if there will be another under-23 team again," Larkin said. "Just to see the players we had and the way we played it was exciting to be a part of. I take away learning from guys like Connor McDavid, how he skates, learning different tricks from him and guys like Nate MacKinnon as well and Auston Matthews. It was real cool to be a part of."

Team North America went 2-1 but was the talk of the tournament with its fast, relentless pace.

"It was a lot of fun the way we played," Larkin said. "Even for us it seemed that other team had nothing, we were just all over them, every time they got the puck there was a black or white jersey right on them. Playing offense like that was ton of fun."

Although Larkin was a healthy scratch for the final game, he plans to use it as motivation.

"Obviously you want to play, but maybe you look at the game against Russia I didn't do enough and they have other guys that are there for a reason and need to get in the lineup," Larkin said. "It is what it is. I'm not going to dwell on it. I'm happy to be here. Life goes on. I get 82 more chances to prove myself and maybe show them I should have been playing in the last game."

If circumstances were different, Blashill said he might have told Larkin to stay home until the Wings returned to Detroit.

"If one of our older guys would have asked me, I would have said no, but because he's young and because he didn't play all the games, I thought it was good," Blashill said. "He looked real good today,."

Larkin quickly joined Team Howe and centered a line with Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou during practice and the special teams scrimmage.

"It fit our teams the way we had our teams kind of set up," Blashill said. "I may give them a shot in a preseason game. Obviously as we get players back from World Cup the second half of the preseason, we'll look different. We'll probably get closer to what I'm thinking for line combinations for the year that second half of the exhibition games."

Larkin welcomes that prospect.

"It was good," Larkin said. "Moe (Mantha) looks good, got to work out with him over the summer, and Double-A looks faster. It's exciting to see those guys again and get back together and hopefully we get to play in preseason game together."

Larkin is excited about working to establish himself as an NHL center.

"It's a whole new challenge," Larkin said. "It's kind of owning a line. You look at a guy like Henrik Zetterberg, he controls that line. If Z's not on that night it's going to be tough on other players. I'm going to have to work on face-offs and little details that are going make me a better player all around and better in the defensive zone. That's a challenge, but I want to keep building on speed and taking guys on and continue playing the way I play to create offense for this team."

The only way to get better at face-offs is to work on them as much as possible in practice with players who can beat you.

"(Luke) Glendening is someone who has head to learn, both at the American League level and then at the NHL level, how to become real good in face-offs, so he's certainly someone who can take him under his wing," Blashill said. "They live together. He can put him in spots and really work with him. We'll work as a coaching staff, find a couple real good centers throughout the league that we think he can maybe learn from, little techniques."

Larkin has played most of his life as a center but also did fine on the wing last season.

"I think when you look at the long picture of me being a Red Wing it's ultimately at center," Larkin said. "We have a lot of centers so if it's not working he could put me back on wing."

Larkin finished tied for third on the Wings in scoring with Tomas Tatar with 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists).

Only Zetterberg with 50 points (13 goals) and Pavel Datsyuk with 49 points (16 goals) had more.

While fans might be expecting Larkin to lead the team in scoring in his sophomore campaign, Blashill isn't looking at it like that.

"Last year he came in with very little expectations and he had 45 points and everybody said he had a great year," Blashill said. "Now the expectations go through the roof and all of a sudden he might have a real similar year and people are disappointed. That's what happens. My focus with him isn't on any kind of points, it's not on anything like that, it's on how good is he and is he getting better? Is he getting better at face-offs, is he getting better in all those areas that's going to take for him to be a real good player. That'll be our focus, it'll be more on the day-to-day improvement."

PULKKINEN PRACTICES PROLIFICALLY: Teemu Pulkkinen, who underwent left shoulder surgery on June 6, is practicing as part of Team Yzerman.

But because Pulkkinen is not cleared for full contact quite yet, he can't really go in the special teams scrimmages.

So Pulkkinen joined the small group comprising Team Lindsay after his work with Team Yzerman.

"Pulkkinen has chosen to come out and work extra," Blashill said. "He said his shoulder feels good but legs still got always to go because he got a late start in skating, so he's just trying to get himself in as good a shape as possible, so when he does, hopefully he'll get inserted into an exhibition game."

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