Dylan Larkin and Steve Yzerman have more in common than you might think. And yet, it’s probably not all that shocking when you really reflect on it.
When I see the “C” sewn on the Red Wings sweater, I’m always transported back to when my young mind could not wrap itself around the name Yzerman. My uncle explained that he’d be one of the greatest Red Wings of my lifetime.
I couldn’t figure out how the Y and Z sounded like “eye.”
Regardless of this, he instantly became my favorite player, along with millions of other Detroit fans. As his career progressed, he was often dogged by injury and now unthinkable, a choker label.
There’s one interview in particular, following another playoff series loss, where he lost his normal cool and snapped at a reporter asking him how it felt to fall short yet again. That was a pivotal summer–one where even some of those diehards in my life wondered if that Stanley Cup drought would continue–regardless of the talent oozing out of Hockeytown. Compare it to the 2006-2014 Tigers who were oh-so-close, but couldn’t get it done.
It was a real concern at the time. His leadership, his gamesmanship, hell even his toughness was questioned at times.
By June of 1997, it was forever washed away. By the time he retired, it was but a mere footnote in his long career.
Larkin Following a Similar Path as Yzerman
So it’s fitting that the man who chose to put the C on Larkin’s sweater blazed a similar path as the 25-year-old Waterford native. There are some differences, of course. Larkin hasn’t piled up the eye-popping point totals like his boss. (Yzerman had consecutive sixty goal seasons, which is just insane to think about). But the leagues they played in are hardly the same.
Larkin has only played in a single playoff series–that during his rookie season where we maybe thought Detroit would see the likes of Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Andreas Athanasiou join Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar as the new standard bearers of keeping Detroit’s dominance alive.
We know how that turned out.
Larkin has had to weather some pretty brutal seasons like Yzerman did early on. After an especially challenging one last season, Larkin was starting to hear questions that echoed the doubt that Yzerman once faced. Though they were slightly different:
Is he really a top line center?
Is he even a second line center?
Will he even last in Detroit? Should they trade him while he still has value?
After all, the Mantha deal was a warning sign to everyone in the organization that Yzerman would do what he needed to build this team back into prominence. During my final grade of Larkin last season, I cautioned those concerned fans that it was an off-year, but I noted that the statistical drop-off was concerning.
My thoughts traveled back to the early to mid-90’s where Yzerman faced the same scrutiny, albeit during much different circumstances. Larkin’s challenge would be leading this team, like Yzerman, out of the abyss of a lower rung team and returning them to glory.
Yzerman would do whatever it took to win and restore the pride of Detroit’s hockey team. Change his game. Forego stats for Stanley Cups. Do the little things that lead to championships.
He had to be the “guy with the Red Wings crest tattooed on his chest” as former Wings coach Jacque Demers once famously quipped.
Larkin, especially this season, has lived that same credo. From his admirable return after the brutal injury suffered at the hands of Jamie Benn last season, to his scoring prowess this season, to how he’s defended his teammates, right down to his back check two nights ago that snuffed out a scoring chance.
But then there’s this:
For all the (rightful) attention Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider have received this season, Larkin has been unbelievable in his own right. Though it’s no surprise to any Red Wings fan, he’s been one of the league’s best players all season–on a team that won’t make the playoffs. Be it the power play, the penalty kill, even strengthened or chasing down Artemi Panarin to kill a last second scoring chance in overtime, he’s doing it all.
Just like his boss once did.
If he keeps it up, and the team continues to grow, he might very well follow in the footsteps of Yzerman, all the way down to skating the Cup around the ice with the C on his chest.