One of the biggest storylines coming into this season and out of last season was the captain of the Detroit Red Wings, Dylan Larkin, and his performance as the top-line center. Doubts were going around, including writers like myself that wrote about management needing to find someone to take over that role. It felt as if he would do better with less responsibility on the top line, considering how poor his 2020-21 season was. The good thing is, I was wrong.
Larkin and His Line Are Hot, Hot, Hot
It was a rough start to the season after he got suspended for roughing (punching) Tampa Bay Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph, but it has been smooth sailing since then. He has been on a line with a phenomenal rookie in Lucas Raymond and someone he has played with for a few seasons now in Tyler Bertuzzi. Together, they have been one of the league’s most lethal trios. You can read some interesting facts regarding the statistics and more in my colleague Tony Wolak’s piece here, but I’m going to go more in-depth.
Per Evolving-Hockey, through six games, Larkin, Raymond, and Bertuzzi have the fourth-best expected goals for percentage (xGF%) in the entire NHL among lines with at least 50 minutes of time on ice. They have the best-expected goals for per 60 (xGF/60) in the whole league using those same parameters. It isn’t close either. Essentially, the line is driving a ton of the offense, and they’re not giving back anything substantial on the defensive end. If you’re not a fan of the expected stats, they are one of six lines in this category not to have surrendered a goal thus far. That’s right, their goals for percentage (xGF%) is 100. Their 6.49 goals for per 60 (GF/60) is second overall. What they have been able to do thus far is genuinely incredible, considering there was an evident lack of offensive threat last season.
Larkin’s success with his line is well-documented among all analytics. They have undoubtedly been one of the best groups to grace the ice so far in 2021-22. The question then becomes how much Larkin has contributed to their success. The answer? Tons.
We can start with his eight points in eight games with one game-winning goal that came in overtime against the Washington Capitals. Then, we can move to his goals above replacement (GAR) number being fourth-best in the entire league. He could be getting lucky considering his expected goals above replacement (xGAR) is 43rd best out of players with a minimum of 140 total minutes. Additionally, his xGF% at 5v5 is first on the team at 63.88%, and among players with a minimum of 100 minutes, it is ninth-best. His xGF/60 is second only behind Timo Meier of the San Jose Sharks, and he ranks 29th in GF/60.
I could go over more and more numbers that showcase how good Larkin has been, but it would be driving the point into the ground. Larkin has been one of the most valuable players to the Red Wings so far by the box score and analytics. It’s not debatable. He is a huge reason why the team is scoring as much as they are, and he’s arguably the driver of the first line.
Larkin’s Bounce Back Was Imminent
We all may have been a bit harsh on the 25-year-old center from Waterford, Michigan. In 2020-21, he scored 23 points in 44 games and didn’t even hit double digits in goals, missing the plateau slightly with nine. Out of 19 players with a minimum of 500 minutes, he was 17th in GAR and the 13th best xGAR on the Red Wings. He did have the seventh-best xGF%, but it doesn’t mean much when considering that zero players on the team were over 50 percent on the season. He ended with a 47.84%.
The first stat I look at when deciphering a player’s production is their shooting percentage. Many times there are players that underperform their usual numbers because of poor shooting. It can take a toll. For Larkin, that observation holds. His shooting percentage was 9.4%, heading into an already weird. He finished the season with 6.7%. I expected a bounce back in 2021-22 for obvious reasons. Larkin is a skilled forward, and it would be a very poor reflection on me if I didn’t expect one. However, I did have concerns that he wasn’t actually a first-line center. I did not see this kind of rebound coming.
Larking is shooting at 10.3% to start the season, and that’s above average for him, but I think he could maintain it in a larger sample. With pressure being uplifted off of him thanks to the stud Raymond, he can focus on playing the kind of game that got him 73 points in 76 games in 2018-19. That season he shot 11.15%, which is better than his current total now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up with more points by the end of the season. Highly talented young players coming in and taking everything into their own hands can be huge for a franchise, and it has been huge for the resurgence of Larkin. He needed a bounce-back year, and he’s got one. The only hope now is that he can continue this for an extended period. He’s playing like an actual number one center, and that’s what the Red Wings need.
Jeff is a consistent source for Red Wings content at The Hockey Writers. He was formerly a member of the Predators writing team, and he enjoys watching all sorts of hockey, from juniors to the pros. Jeff enjoys playing for his high school and local teams in Nashville as well. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here or check out his contributions on his Substack, Last Word on Hockey, On the Forecheck, Broad Street Hockey, Hockey Wilderness, and Puck Empire. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck and the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions, you can message his Twitter, @jjmid04.