Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin can't wait to play with many of the best players age 23 and younger from the United States and Canada for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016.
He's also grateful for one other thing.
"I'm happy [Edmonton Oilers center] Connor McDavid is on our roster because I've been chasing him around for a while since his days with the Toronto Marlboros (in 2011-12), so it'll be nice being on his side" Larkin told NHL.com on Wednesday. "You hear nothing but positive things [about McDavid], and obviously he's a great player, and I'm happy he's on our team."
Larkin, 20, should play a significant role for Team North America and could end up as a linemate with McDavid in the eight-team tournament that will be played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto from Sept. 17-Oct. 1. He is scheduled to depart for Montreal on Sunday with practices beginning at Bell Centre on Monday.
"I think this is going to be great because it's a group of guys coming together who are all in the same position; we're young guys in the NHL trying to prove ourselves," Larkin said. "I think the other teams aren't underestimating us, but we don't have that pressure. We're just going to have a ton of fun and play with a lot of speed, and I think teams might be on their heels when they're playing against us."
Opposing players might find themselves backpedaling often when Larkin has the puck on his stick. As a rookie last season, he finished in 13.172 seconds during the Bridgestone Fastest Skater competition at the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition in Nashville, breaking Mike Gartner's record of 13.386 seconds set in 1996.
"It's a little bit of a different tournament where you come together and practice and play three exhibition games, but having that experience in the World Championship, I think you'll see a similar Team Finland, a similar Team Russia," Larkin said. "Anytime you play in international competition it comes down to discipline, structure and capitalizing on your opportunities. So I do think my international experience has prepared me for this tournament."
Larkin has represented the United States in international competition for many years. He played in the IIHF World Championship the past two years and in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. He's looking forward to renewing acquaintances with fellow U.S.-born players Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres) and Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) for Team North America. Larkin, Eichel and Matthews were teammates at the 2015 WJC.
"It's pretty cool to think that the three of us played together at the World Junior Championship just a few years ago," Larkin said. "We've come up through the international program together and now we get to represent all the hockey players under the age of 23, and I'm excited to see them and play with them again."
Larkin is determined to follow up a strong rookie season in Detroit at the conclusion of the World Cup.
"When I look at the last 10 games of the season and then the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I think the points might not have been there, but the production was and I was playing the right way," Larkin said. "I think I want to be a more responsible, two-way player. I think you saw that from me in the first half of the year, and then it kind of tailed off. I want to be a guy that the team can rely on in all situations and especially big situations when we're up a goal or down a goal."
There's a good chance Larkin could see more time at center, something he would embrace. Detroit lost a key member down the middle when Pavel Datsyuk, 38, decided to return to Russia and play in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Larkin spent much of last season playing left wing with center Henrik Zetterberg, and each benefited from the other. Larkin had 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 80 games and finished fifth in voting for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.
"Naturally, you want to have the puck, and I feel as a center you can come underneath and you're a closer option for a defenseman to pop it to you, and when you have the puck a little bit more, you can distribute it," Larkin said. "I do like playing on the wing, and it was easy with a guy like Henrik Zetterberg because he's just able to find you so well. But I don't have a preference. There's a little more responsibility at center, but I'm totally comfortable with that responsibility."