PHILADELPHIA – Draft day was made extra special for a soon-to-be Michigan man.
With the No. 15 pick in the NHL draft Friday night, the Red Wings selected Waterford native Dylan Larkin, who played the past two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor.
“It’s special. It’s something my family and myself will remember for a while,” said Larkin, about being picked by his hometown team. “I was pretty nervous but just hearing your name is a relief.
“This is the place I wanted to be. I’m happy with the result.”
Ultimately, Larkin would have been fine with whatever team selected him, but Red Wings team officials were sweating it out after Toronto picked at No. 9.
“From (No.) 10 on I was sweating profusely,” said Tyler Wright, the Wings director of amateur scouting. “We had some options to maybe go back and pick up a second (round pick), but I mean we had targeted him early. If he was there and we thought there was a slim chance we would have to step up and make the pick. You get pretty excited because you think you’ve got a chance and all it takes is one team and fortunately for us he was the guy that we targeted and he fell to us. We’re pretty excited.”
The 17-year-old Larkin is the second American, and the first from Michigan, chosen in the first round by the Red Wings. Goalie Tom McCollum, of Amhurst, N.Y. (2008), was the last American pick in the first round by Detroit.
The first-round pick was Detroit’s highest in 23 years when they selected forward Martin Lapointe with the No. 10 overall pick in 1991.
Larkin is widely considered a smart, skilled centerman with good leadership qualities. Though he’s still a bit of a project, the Red Wings, who are generally very patient with their prospects, like that he plays a 200-feet game.
Larkin was among the U.S. team’s leading scorers last season, finishing second in goals (31), fourth in points (56) in 60 games.
Wright is reluctant to compare the team’s newest prospect to any current NHL centers, though he appreciates Larkin’s elite skating ability and his passion for the sport.
“I love the way he skates,” Wright said. “This guy’s the ultimate competitor, I mean, he plays on the second line on a team that maybe with (Alex) Tuch and (Sonny) Milano did a lot of the scoring, nothing against some of his linemates, but he had some of the lesser talented guys to play with and he drove that bus. He separated his shoulder at the World Championships and you could tell, and he scores the game-winning goal. There’s just a lot of thing about him. Character and passion for me are a lot of things and not only does he have those things he’s a good hockey player.”
Larkin learned plenty about the game and about himself during his two years with the U.S. program but it’s time to move on, he said.
“I came in as a kid and left as a young man, physically, mentally, all areas,” Larkin said. “They give you resources and it’s up to the players how much you want to use them. I feel like I used them and became a well-rounded young man.”
Larkin has been Michigan based through and through. He played youth hockey in the Belle Tire organization in metro Detroit, where he was coached for a while by former Red Wings forward Doug Brown. He played for the U.S. U-18 team, graduated from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor and attended Waterford Mott High for his freshman and sophomore academic years. In the fall, he will attend the University of Michigan where he will play for another former Red Wings forward, Wolverines legendary coach Red Berenson.
“Even coach (Mike) Babcock said you’re in a good spot with Red Berenson,” Larkin said. “They’re good friends. It’ll be a good time there.”
But with the Red Wings just up the road from the U-M campus, Larkin knows his development will be paramount to any future success in the NHL.
“I’m looking to improve on my strength,” Larkin said. “To play at the next level, even in college, you got to be strong. It’s important to get in the gym and spend time on my body and nutrition.”
The draft wraps up Saturday with rounds two through seven, beginning at 10 a.m. EST, at Wells Fargo Center. Barring any trades, the Red Wings will select six more prospects beginning with the No. 76 overall pick in the third round. They also have picks at No. 106 (fourth round), No. 136 (fifth), No. 166 (sixth) and Nos. 196 and 201 (seventh).
The Red Wings surrendered the No. 46 pick to Nashville, completing last season’s trade deadline deal that brought veteran center David Legwand to Detroit and sent prospect Calle Jarnkrok to the Predators.