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Growing up: Larkin putting the 'A' in U.S.A

by Brian Hedger / Special to

COLOGNE, Ger. - Jimmy Howard couldn't help but grin when asked about the alternate captain 'A' on the shoulder of Dylan Larkins' jersey at the 2017 IIHF World Championship.

"Well, he's a vet," Howard said of Larkin, his 20-year old teammate on the Red Wings and the U.S. men's national team. "It's his third time being over here (playing for the U.S.) … he's got the most games on the team, I think."

That's not entirely accurate, but Howard's not far off.

Larkin may still have a baby face, but he's a grizzled vet when it comes to international play. Since turning pro in 2015, this is the second time Larkin has played for the U.S. in a world championship and third time he's participated in an international competition. He also played for Team North America during the 2017 World Cup of Hockey, which was comprised of elite young American and Canadian players.

In other words, Howard's point is right on target. Larkin has earned his 'A.'

"What an honor for him to be over here and be part of the leadership group," said Howard, who's also competing in his second world championship. "I don't think he really has to do that in Detroit. We've got such great leadership with (Niklas Kronwall), (Henrik Zetterberg) and (Justin Abdelkader), so he's a little more reserved there. Here he's a little more vocal, and it's really great to see."

It might also be training for a different role with the Red Wings in the future.

Larkin is still three months from his 21st birthday, so he could wear a Red Wings uniform for years to come. It doesn't take much to envision that uniform having a letter stitched to the shoulder someday.

Until then, he'll continue learning by watching veteran teammates in Detroit and gaining from experiences like this one.  

"With the year I had, where things didn't go as I wanted, coming here and being a leader is valuable experience," said Larkin, who had 17 goals and 32 points in 80 games this season. "You also learn things from guys like Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Justin Abdelkader, Pavel Datsyuk … you see those guys and the way they lead, and they're not any different. They're not trying to be a hero. They come to the rink and work. That's something I've tried to bring over here, and it's something I'll carry for the rest of my career."

That work ethic is a big reason Larkin got this alternate captain role with Team USA. It helped that Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill is running the bench for the U.S., but that wasn't the lone reason for his captain decisions.

Blashill also consulted those familiar with Larkin's previous stints on Team USA.

He spoke with Jim Johansson, USA Hockey's assistant executive director of hockey operations, and also called New Jersey Devils coach John Hynes - who coached the U.S. in the world championship last year.

"I asked them for their input on leadership, and a number of people said Dylan was somebody they felt deserved to wear that letter," Blashill said. "I know his leadership ability from Detroit, obviously, but he's a great young guy. I'm just real happy with the way he's playing."

Larkin is off to a great start in this tournament, racking up seven points through the first four games of preliminary play in Pool B (all assists). He's centering the second line, playing with New York Islanders forward Brock Nelson, Chicago Blackhawks rookie Nick Schmaltz and one game with Colorado Avalanche forward J.T. Compher - Larkin's roommate in Cologne and former teammate at Michigan.

Larkin's speed has given opponents a tough time thus far, and he's shown a high skill level while setting up goals.

It doesn't erase the sting of the Red Wings missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs or the minus-28 rating Larkin finished with this season, but he's enjoying the recent success.

"It's a long summer, and I had a bitter taste in my mouth from the season," Larkin said. "Every time you get to wear this jersey it's an honor, so I just wanted to come over here and finish my season off on a positive note."

He's well on his way, according to Blashill, who's seen a lot to like from Larkin this season.

"He had a hard year, but I think he really grew as a player," Blashill said. "He does everything right now. He comes to the bench hard and stops on pucks. His shifts are the right length. He does everything it takes to be a successful player, so I'm real proud of him as a hockey player."

He's not bad as an alternate captain, either.


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