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Red Wings' Larkin: 'I'm hungrier than I've ever been'

Center has grown as player, leader

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

There's no question that center Dylan Larkin has quickly ascended in his role, both as a player and as a leader for the Red Wings.

Two seasons ago when the Wings were in Montreal for a game in late March, veteran defenseman Jonathan Ericsson was talking about some of the bright spots on a struggling team and the first name he mentioned was Larkin's.

"Larkin, I have nothing but good things to say about that kid," Ericsson said in 2018. "He wants to become a great player and he's going to do what it takes to become it. He already is a very good player. He wants to be better defensively, he wants to be better offensively, he wants to be a better teammate, he wants to make the team better, not just himself. He's a young kid.

"Two years ago, I wouldn't have thought that he would develop as much as a person as he has, on and off the ice. I say to myself or someone else, I would really want to have Larkin on my team. I think he's been really consistent and he goes hard every single night. He wants to win for his team."

Video: End of the Season Press Conference | Dylan Larkin

When captain Henrik Zetterberg was forced to stop playing because of a back injury, the Wings opted to go with alternate captains Niklas Kronwall, Justin Abdelkader, Frans Nielsen and Larkin.

When Kronwall retired before last season, Ericsson thought that the Wings might be ready to name Larkin the new captain.

Instead, the Red Wings again went with a slate of alternate captains, adding Luke Glendening to the mix last season.

"I understand the significance of the C, its place in history and certainly with an organization like the Detroit Red Wings. Steve (Yzerman) understands it," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said on a Zoom conference call Thursday. "When Steve came in last year, in our conversations, he just said he wanted to observe and I get that 100 percent, I respect that for sure. Him and I will sit down over the course of the next little bit here and talk about everything to do with our hockey team. Certainly, captaincy will be part of that. I think the biggest thing is making sure when you give somebody a letter, whether it's a C or an A, that they're ready for it and they're the right people for that job."

On a Zoom call Wednesday, Yzerman said they intended to name a captain before the start of the 2020-21 season.

Yzerman also said he had gotten a chance to really get to know Larkin off the ice as well as seeing him on the ice on an everyday basis.

"Being a member of the Red Wings and improving this team is very important to him and he takes it seriously," Yzerman said. "He's an excellent player for us, he's a very important player, he's a great leader and he's dedicated and mentally strong and committed, so I've been very impressed in getting to know him over the course of the year."

Video: Steve Yzerman Season Ending Press Conference | 5/27

Larkin credited a conversation he had with Yzerman in the first half of the season with giving him some insight.

"I started and I think 'til about Game 30, I had a conversation with Steve and he said to me, 'You can't do this all yourself,'" Larkin recalled on the Zoom call. "I kind of took a step back after he said that to me. I think he was saying it in the most positive way where I was almost trying too hard and sometimes it was hurting me. Around Christmastime, (I) took a step back and used my linemates a little more and played a little simpler. Still played hard but I was playing the right way. That really helped me."

Although he won't even turn 24 until July 30, Larkin has five NHL seasons under his belt and he has definitely evolved.

Glendening has had a front-row seat to observe Larkin's growth, especially as a leader.

"I think first and foremost, every night no matter the outcome, he was facing the media, answering questions about the shortcomings of our team and I thought that he handled that with grace, which is not an easy thing to do at his age," Glendening said. "But I think he led the way most nights for us, was our best player, worked hard, competed, did things the right way. And there were multiple games in the middle of games, after games, where he would step up when something needed to be said, he would say it.

"He's really grown into that leadership role. He did an excellent job with it this year. I'm excited to see what it is in the future. But I think another thing is he practices hard, he does things the right way, whether that's in the gym, he leads by example and if something needs to be said, he's more than willing to say it."

Blashill, who also had Larkin as one of his alternate captains for Team USA at the IIHF World Championship in previous years, said as difficult as this past season was, it will help Larkin be a better person and leader in the long run.

"He's got great leadership capabilities. He's a great player, great competitor, has great inner drive, is a real asset to our organization, he's going to help grind this organization into better days," Blashill said. "I don't even know if you can put into words today the things you learn as you go through those struggles but you grow. You learn to love the grind, when to show emotion and when to keep your emotion in check. You learn how to keep your messaging to keep the team headed in the right direction and that's very difficult in the times we've had. There was tons of growth for him.

"Your outlook in how you come to the rink every day matters and when it's not going good, it's hard to have that great outlook and I think he learned to persevere over some of those difficult times and come to the rink with that great outlook he's generally had. I think his play the second half of the year, his points and his play were a lot better. Part of that is grinding through those times where it was difficult and then overcoming them and just coming with that fresh attitude every day that I'm going to enjoy and love the grind and I'm going to work us to better days."

Without Zetterberg and Kronwall in the room and later after the trade deadline without Mike Green, Larkin knew that he had to step up even more into that leadership role.

"I guess as a leader, I try not to force it, I try not to do anything but play the game I love and be the person that I am, that loves being around the guys, loves playing hockey," Larkin said. "I show up to the rink, I try to work as hard as possible, I've had conversations with him (Yzerman) that I always knew but it was good to hear from him that at this point in my career, we have guys that they need to see guys in the gym, they need to see myself and Luke Glendening and Anthony (Mantha) and Tyler (Bertuzzi) working hard and doing everything we can as professionals to make sure we're in a spot to succeed on the ice and to set a good example all the time for other players.

"That was something that I tried to work on this year is making sure that I'm always doing the right things and making sure that I'm always a good example for everyone."

Larkin has also been a leader in the community, contributing time and effort to causes that mean a lot to him like Special Olympics, the Larkin Hockey School and numerous other things.

That has not changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Larkin and his father, Kevin, stepped up to donate gloves to the Detroit Medical Center and St. Joseph Mercy Health System at the beginning of April.

"It means a lot, especially as I was able to do it with my dad," Larkin said. "Him being in the beauty supply industry here in Detroit for 30-plus years, he had access to stuff that was in need with hospitals. My dad had some inventory and he charged me about full price so I didn't get a deal, but it was just something that we were very proud to be able to help in any way we could. I'll give him a lot of credit, he kind of said, 'hey, this would be a good thing to do, let's do it' and we were able to help a couple hospitals downtown when they needed it the most."

On Thursday, Larkin was asked what it would mean to him if he were to be named captain.

"I think it would be one of the greatest honors of my life," Larkin said. "It would be something that I take very seriously, to represent the Red Wings in that role would be something that I never imagined that I would be as a kid growing up in Detroit. I played my whole career here, my whole life here, you see the players, even Steve himself, that have been that and have been the ultimate Red Wings. They're not only great players but great people in the community so it would be a great honor but I'm not going to say that's my only goal or if it doesn't happen, that I'm going to be upset about it.

"I'm going to go about my business and I'm going to perform for this team and the fans, do everything I can this summer to make my game as all-around better for next year and take the next step for our team."

Instagram from @dylanlarkin71: As hard as this season was, the ending has been harder. I'd like to say thank you to our fans that have stuck with us through thick and thin! Stay safe HockeyTown ❤️

The abrupt ending to the season and the team's lack of success have stoked the already strong fire that has always burned inside Larkin.

"I'm hungrier than I've ever been," he said. "We have a long summer ahead but I've been in the gym since this all ended in March. I can't wait to get back to playing and I want to be in the best shape of my life next year and play big minutes and contribute in any way I can. So I'm definitely hungrier and I want to make sure every aspect of my game improves this summer."

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