‘Write our own history’: Dylan Larkin looks to bounce back, help Wings take flight

Detroit News

Detroit — The last several seasons haven’t been easy for Dylan Larkin.

The tremendous emotion of playing for your hometown team, being named captain of the Red Wings, and settling on a path to being one of the top players in the NHL has been offset by losing.

A lot of losing. Much more than the Red Wings have been accustomed to.

But through training camp and the preseason, there’s been a realization that things might be starting to be different.

This Red Wings team has young, promising talent along with veterans still in their prime and players approaching their prime. It’s a nice mixture.

And maybe the most distinguishable difference from the past few seasons is there’s simply more NHL talent throughout the lineup. The Wings’ roster is deeper.

“It is,” said Larkin, who will begin his seventh NHL season Thursday when the Wings host the Lightning. “It’s younger. We had guys fighting for roles, guys battling all camp for that, and it was good and competitive. Some new guys came in and really wanted jobs. You could see (with the practices). Guys showed up in shape and ready to play. It was a good camp.

“(Now) we’re through it and we’re focused on Tampa.”

What Larkin, 25, sees with this particular group is an opportunity to reverse the negative vibe that comes with missing the playoffs the last five seasons, the losing records and the negative perception of the team around the NHL.

Larkin feels it’s definitely time to “write our own history.”

“We need to go out there and execute and prove why we, as a group, don’t want to be continuing the trend that’s been going on here,” Larkin said. “We’ve talked about it, talked about we’re our own team and we’ll write our own history.

“There’s so much history with this team, and you can look at it as pressure but things haven’t been going well, so we’re really going to start something now. Start with a push for the playoffs and playing meaningful games and playing the right way, with everyone contributing. When you get everyone contributing it’s fun and you win hockey games.

“And we begin to write history of our own.”

Looking ahead, not behind

For Larkin, specifically, he’s been counting the days and months to begin the new season, ready to leave last year’s pandemic-shortened campaign far in his rearview mirror.

The Wings were hit with a COVID-19 outbreak early in the season, gutting the lineup of valuable players and putting them in a hole they couldn’t recover from as the losses mounted.

Larkin’s linemate Tyler Bertuzzi suffered a back injury after nine games and didn’t play again, ultimately needing season-ending surgery.

Without Bertuzzi and with Anthony Mantha slumping and ultimately being traded, Larkin saw a steady stream of linemates and couldn’t find chemistry with anyone.

Then on April 20 in Dallas, Larkin was crosschecked in the neck area by Jamie Benn during a faceoff which resulted in a season-ending injury. The rehabilitation and recovery lingered throughout the summer.

Larkin wound up playing only 44 games, with a career-low nine goals and 14 assists. He’s intent on upgrading those offensive numbers.

“I’d love to have a bounce-back year,” Larkin said. “With that, it’s going to be great having Bert back. I want to continue to be better on the power play, be better on the penalty kill, given if there’s a role there, faceoffs. Just a better all-around game and really help this team win hockey games.”

Despite Larkin’s lower offensive output, general manager Steve Yzerman and coach  Jeff Blashill at the end of last season were quick to point toward Larkin’s development on the defensive side of the puck — actually Larkin’s progress in all three zones — instead of solely focusing on goals and assists.

Blashill, talking Wednesday, again pointed to how he views Larkin’s total responsibilities and not just his offensive production.

“I’ll start by saying I don’t judge Dylan by points,” Blashill said. “Certainly production matters. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter, but I don’t go on a night by night basis or 10-game segments necessarily that your points are low so you’re not playing well. I judge on a lot more things than that.

“Points can be fleeting and it’s real tricky to judge people on just that. What do I want to see from Dylan Larkin? When Dylan is at his best, he’s skating. Everybody knows he’s on the ice because he’s skating and attacking the game. He’s winning puck battles with his body. He has that strong lower base that he finds ways to win tons of puck battles, and coming back and doing a good job defensively and being able to play against anybody he faces, including the best players in the world.

“I would add one more element. He, along with a whole bunch of guys, have to be better on the power play. That’s what I want to see.”

Blashill is confident Larkin is going to check off all those boxes.

“Dylan is a real good leader who is just going to do that naturally,” Blashill said. “The most important thing is that he takes care of his game and plays at a high level.”

Help is here

The past few seasons, there might have been stretches where Larkin might have tried to do too much single-handedly. With injuries decimating the lineup or other players just not producing enough, Larkin might have tried to overcompensate and saw his own game drop.

But with the lineup deeper this season, Larkin likely will not feel the need to cover up elsewhere.

Even the presumed second line, with newcomer Pius Suter centering a rejuvenated Robby Fabbri and Filip Zadina, could be argued that it’s considered a No. 1 line.

There is depth in scoring.

“Absolutely,” Larkin said. “Sutes is a solid player. He’s really good at everything and plays the game the right way and makes players around him better. And getting Bert back, adding a guy we missed last year, is like getting a top-line player.

“It’s on us to produce now.”

There’s also the addition of prized rookies, defenseman Moritz Seider and forward Lucas Raymond.

When Jakub Vrana found out he needed shoulder surgery early in training camp, Raymond, the Wings’ 2020 first-round draft pick, skated into the opening in the lineup and eventually found a home on Larkin’s line.

In a small sample size, Raymond has found chemistry with Larkin, with the duo finding each other on the ice for prime scoring opportunities.

“Dylan is a great player and a great leader off the ice,” Raymond said. “When I’ve played with him it’s been real easy. He’s a real smart player but with a lot of speed, and he does everything at a high pace. He has a great mind and he makes players around him better.”

Larkin is excited about what Raymond and Seider, who was considered by many analysts the best player outside of the NHL last season, can add to the Wings.

“It’s good for our team,” Larkin said. “Like everyone they have 82 games to prove themselves. It’s up to the coaches and management about what is best for them, but what is best for them is (being) in our lineup right now it looks like. And that’s great for our organization and our team. I believe they make us better.

“They’re two great kids who’ll continue to work and elevate their games. They’re talented players. They’re skilled, they’re workers, they make plays, they’re responsible, much more than I was when I came in. You see it when you’re on the ice with them in practice.”

Larkin has also been excitedly awaiting this season for its normalcy.

With the COVID-19 pandemic raging last winter, Little Caesars Arena had no fans. The atmosphere was eerie, the quiet occasionally unnerving, and things weren’t normal at LCA or on the road.

Larkin is looking forward to fans filling the arena and making noise once again at LCA.

“Absolutely,” Larkin said. “It was good to see the fans in the building already (in the preseason), the works that hadn’t been around for a while. The excitement in the city with the fans watching the young players and some of the new guys throughout the preseason, it all just builds to the regular season.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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