It has almost been six years since Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings made history at the 2016 All-Star Game (ASG) in Nashville. While there’s some worthy debate about the merits of Larkin’s record-setting night, nobody has been able to outdo what he accomplished that night.
This was Larkin’s first season in the NHL. As a 19-year-old rookie, he was the All-Star representative for a franchise that was in the midst of a two decades-long playoff streak. To some, this moment might have signaled that the Red Wings were somehow going to once again avoid the decline that contenders face at the end of their championship window. He finished that season with 23 goals and 45 points, and it seemed like this was the first of many All-Star appearances for the young forward.
Fast forward to 2022 and things look much different than they did six years ago. While the Red Wings made the playoffs the year of Larkin’s first All-Star appearance, they were bounced out in just five games. Larkin and the Red Wings have not returned to playoffs ever since. At 25 years old, he is the captain of the Red Wings, and one of the veterans on a team that is in the process of drafting, developing, and implementing young players into their lineup as their rebuild continues.
Despite all of that, Larkin has mostly remained steady as the team’s best player. During the 2018-19 season, he finished in the top-20 in voting for the Selke Trophy – awarded to the league’s top defensive-forward – and he had a career year offensively to the tune of 32 goals and 73 points. In fact, from the 2017-18 season to 2019-20, he recorded 189 points in 229 games. While the 2020-21 season was a down campaign for him in his first season as the team’s captain (23 points in 44 games), he has always been at or near the top of the Red Wings’ scoring leaders, and he has matured into the type of player that leads by example and isn’t afraid to face the tough questions when things go sideways.
This week, Larkin was named the Red Wings’ representative at the 2022 ASG, set to take place in Las Vegas. What’s a little puzzling is that this will be just his second appearance at the event. As most people that have watched him over the last few season can tell you, he has deserved to return to this event for quite some time now.
Larkin’s 2021-22 Season
This season, Larkin has reasserted himself as an offensive leader for the Red Wings. His 34 points in 34 games leads the team, and his underlying stats suggest that this isn’t a fluke. While the narrative around the Wings this season is encompassed by the play of the team’s rookies, the team’s captain has made a difference almost every time he has put on the winged wheel this season.
As of this writing, Larkin has won 53.8 percent of his faceoffs, the second-highest mark of his career. Among players to play at least 30 games for the Red Wings this season, his 49.6 percent Corsi-For rating (even-strength) leads the team, and his expected goals-for percentage of 50.9 also leads the team. Simply put: nobody on the Red Wings has driven offensive possession and chances quite like Larkin has this season.
Larkin’s strong offensive performance this season has also helped rookie sensation Lucas Raymond make a mark on the team at 19 years old. The young Swede sits second behind Larkin on the team scoring list with 32 points through 39 games. Of Raymond’s 11 goals so far this season, Larkin has assisted on eight of them, with six of those eight assists being primary assists. Detroit’s top line of Larkin, Raymond and Tyler Bertuzzi has done most of the heavy lifting offensively this season, but much of Raymond’s early success can be directly attributed to playing on a line with a player like Larkin. Raymond may also get the opportunity to join Larkin in Las Vegas depending on the results of the NHL’s “Last Man In” vote. Fans can find that here.
A curious thing to note in all of this is that Larkin is actually receiving the least amount of ice-time that he has since his Sophomore season in 2016-17. His 18:35 in average time on ice this season places almost two full minutes below where he was at last season (20:24), and over three minutes less (21:51) than the 2018-19 season, the most productive campaign of his career so far. That he’s producing at a point per-game pace with less ice-time this season is something to be commended, but also something to keep an eye on – it could reveal a roadmap of how to use him in the coming seasons as more and more prospects join the team.
Larkin’s Last Chance?
One thing to note about Raymond’s chance at joining Larkin at the ASG is that there’s an argument to be made that the rookie deserved to be named an All-Star instead of the Red Wings’ captain. Let’s not forget about defenseman Moritz Seider, goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, or even Bertuzzi either. Though the memory of the 2019-20 season is still fresh in the minds of Red Wings fans, the team finds themselves in a position where there are multiple players who are either worthy of an All-Star nod right now, or seemingly will be in the near future. Oh yeah, and there’s plenty of talent waiting in the wings too.
At the age of 25, Larkin is in his prime right now. Some estimates have a player’s “peak” lasting from ages 24 to 27, meaning that he, theoretically, still has a couple more years playing at the level he is currently enjoying. That being said, the Red Wings aren’t going to be sending upwards of three players to the ASG while the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs are still as dominant as they all are. There are a limited number of spots available, and when a team has multiple players worthy of All-Star distinction, it’s almost guaranteed that the same player will not be recognized year after year. Larkin may have earned that distinction this year, but who’s going to bet against Raymond and/or Seider next year?
In the years since Larkin’s first All-Star appearance, the Red Wings have been represented by Frans Nielsen (2017), Mike Green (2018), Jimmy Howard (2019) and Bertuzzi (2020). There’s a strong argument to be made that Larkin probably should have joined the All-Star festivities from 2017 to 2019, but what’s done cannot be undone. Instead, Larkin will be heading to Las Vegas with an opportunity to show off how much he has grown as a player since 2016. It’s been a long time coming for the captain, and he will undoubtedly have a lot of fun during the weekend’s activities.
Especially during that fastest skater competition, am I right?
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.