DETROIT -- Although it did not end well for his team, Dylan Larkin's rookie season has to be considered a success.
The Red Wings like their young players to get seasoning in the minor leagues, but Larkin, a Waterford, Mich. native, played so well in training camp and during the preseason that he forced the team to keep him.
Larkin, 19, didn't just earn a spot on the team, he was often skating on the top line with captain Henrik Zetterberg, a player Larkin grew up watching.
Larkin scored 23 goals and 22 assists, finishing a team-leading plus-11 in 80 games.
Larkin had one more goal (and one more point) than Zetterberg had as a rookie in 79 games in the 2002-03 season.
Larkin became the sixth rookie in franchise history to lead the team in goals and the first since Mike Foligno led the team with 36 in the 1979-80 season.
The other five are Dale McCourt (33 in 1977-78), Michel Bergeron (32 in 1975-76), Tom Webster (30 in 1970-71) and Carl Liscombe (14 in 1937-38).
With the likelihood that Pavel Datsyuk will return to Russia and Zetterberg will turn 36 before next season, the Wings will look to younger players like Larkin to assume more responsibility.
"I think we have a lot of good players in here," Larkin said after the Wings cleaned out their lockers Monday. "Obviously with some guys moving on it’s an opportunity for young guys to come in. I think and I’m sure as (coach Jeff Blashill) has said, you’ve got to look in the mirror and you’ve got to want to be better and I certainly do to try and help the team. Yeah, I had a good start but I’m not happy with or not satisfied by how the season went as a whole."
In Larkin's first 51 games, he had 18 goals and 19 assists.
In Larkin's final 29 games, he had five goals and three assists.
Larkin said the drop-off wasn't because he felt fatigued.
"Mentally it gets hard in January and February," Larkin said. "I thought I played pretty well but obviously point production went down. It got tough there the last 20-30 games."
Part of it could also be that later in the season, opposing teams had seen Larkin and had a better plan against him, but he didn't think they singled him out.
"At the beginning they don’t know what to expect or what’s going on," Larkin said. "I think I wasn’t attacked. There’s other guys here that they are targeting first to try and shut down."
Larkin helped the Wings extend their streak of making the playoffs to 25 straight seasons.
Although the Wings were fighting for their playoff lives and playing tough games down the stretch, Larkin noticed a difference as soon as the playoffs began.
"I just think the intensity," Larkin said. "The emotion that goes on during those games, it’s unbelievable. Everything that happens you react to. Just how fast the games are, it is another step up from even how the games are the last month of the season when everyone’s trying to make the playoffs."
Like the rest of the Wings, Larkin found offense tough to come by as they fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round in just five games.
"It was an early exit," Larkin said. "It’s tough, especially your first playoffs, your first season. You’re excited about the playoffs, you’re happy just to get there and you don’t realize as a rookie that it’s hard. It’s not easy playing in those games and you’ve got to win four to move on. We didn’t do that so it is a little bit disappointing. It’s a little bit sad that the season has come to an end."
Larkin scored one goal in the five games but said he learned a lot that he can take with him as he prepares for next season.
"I said after Game 1 you don’t really know or appreciate what the players go through in a playoff game until you got through a playoff game and you’re there battling," Larkin said. "I think that was probably one of the best experiences I had this whole year, is getting a taste of that playoff hockey and knowing what it takes to be better for next year."
Last summer Larkin worked with Luke Glendening at Barwis Methods and gained 10 pounds of muscle.
He hopes for even more this offseason.
"I’m 19 years old. I still have a lot of developing to do," Larkin said. "I’m excited to work on skills, to meet with the coaches and see what we can come up with to work on. I have some ideas. I’m hoping to have a big summer."
First, Larkin and Glendening will play for Team USA in the International Ice Hockey Federation Men's World Championship, which will be in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia from May 6-22.
"I just want to keep playing hockey," Larkin said. "I got a nice week off but now I’m ready to get back out there. There’s a lot of young guys going and I’m friends with most of the college guys going so it’ll be fun to go play hockey with my friends."
When Larkin returns, he'll have a long time this summer to prepare for what he hopes will be an even more successful season.
Blashill said it's extremely difficult to become an elite NHL player and you can't expect Larkin to immediately put the Wings on his young shoulders, but he knows Larkin will do everything he can to make it happen.
"What I think about Dylan Larkin is he’s got a real special makeup as a person," Blashill said. "He doesn’t see a ceiling in himself. He’s no ceiling and he’s got an inner drive to match that. And those are two special qualities. How good can he be? Time will tell."