The retirement of Niklas Kronwall saw another veteran leave the Detroit Red Wings dressing room. One year ago it was Henrik Zetterberg, and while the graybeards (30 years and older) still are in the double digits on the roster, there’s a young core that’s ready to lead the way, highlighted by 23-year-old Dylan Larkin.
Larkin, who has 213 points in four seasons, took away plenty being around Kronwall and Zetterberg, who retired with a combined 2,035 games of NHL experience and a Stanley Cup each to their names.
“They brought it every day,” Larkin told NBC Sports during the NHL Player Media Tour last week in Chicago. “They were professionals every day, that’s probably the biggest thing. They competed. They showed up and work and did all the right things every day.”
Larkin is part of the next group of Red Wings that is hoping to start another long playoff streak. Now that Steve Yzerman is back in Hockeytown replacing Ken Holland as general manager, there’s an expectation in Detroit that good times are on their way back.
We spoke with Larkin about the Red Wings’ encouraging finish to last season, getting back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team’s vacant captaincy and more.
Q. What was it about the 8-3 finish that gives you encouragement heading into this season?
LARKIN: “When we finished the season the young players that were producing at the level that they were, obviously, it’s a small sample size and some people will call them meaningless games, but when you have the guys that we have that could be the young core of our team playing like that, it’s just excitement for myself, for our fanbase, for our staff, for us in the locker room. I’m excited to see how we start and as we get into camp how guys are looking. It seems like everyone’s ready, everyone’s excited, everyone’s refreshed after the summer. We’re just going to carry on from where we left off last season.”
Q. From a production standpoint you’ve been the best Red Wing the last few seasons. When you know you have that responsibility every night, how do you manage that pressure?
LARKIN: “I don’t think anyone puts more pressure on me than myself. I enjoy that. I enjoy being in high-pressure situations. I like playing hockey, that’s what it really comes down to. I love the game, I love being at the rink, I love working on my craft. For me, it’s really easy to be at the rink and spend hours trying to get better and I enjoy the pressure and day-to-day grind of playing in the NHL.”
Q. When you see the numbers you put up last season(32-41–73), do you have a specific goal in mind for 2019-20?
LARKIN: “I don’t. I always try to shoot for 30 goals. Last year was pretty special to be able to accomplish that. I don’t set a number, I just try and play hard every night. As I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to take more pride in playing a two-way game. Sometimes when you play that game it doesn’t lead to the big offensive production nights and you have to grind it out. That’s good and I think it helps our team more.”
Q. What areas of your game are you still trying to improve?
LARKIN: “I think I try and improve on every area of my game. If you don’t in the NHL it will slowly catch up to you and it will pass you by. It’s constantly thinking of different ways to play the game and to get better. Everyone has different trainers and different things that they do. I believe in what I’m doing and what I’ve done this offseason to make myself a better hockey player.”
Q. What’s it going to take to get the Red Wings back to the playoffs?
LARKIN: “Our young core taking the next step and taking over the team, I guess. We have the guys to do it, we all believe in each other, and as we all want to produce and build our careers, it’s going to help our team. There’s four guys: myself, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, Andreas Athanasiou, if we can take that next step, become dominant players every night, it’s going to really help our team. I think it’s going to fast-track us to where we want to be.”
Q. How excited are you to be working with Steve Yzerman now that he’s general manager?
LARKIN: “The fan base is excited, the people in Detroit are excited to have him back. To look at what he did in Tampa Bay with the team they had, obviously there’s no guarantees, but he’s been through it, he’s had success at the position he’s at. We all have trust and faith in him. We understand that we have to produce on the ice right now and maybe there’s a little more pressure with having him back. I think it’s good for our team to push guys. For myself, I hope that we build a relationship where we can have conversations and relate to what’s going on in my life and he can help guide me through some things that occur to a young guy playing in the NHL.”
Q. Are you ready to assume a bigger leadership role on the team if Jeff [Blashill] and Steve come to you?
LARKIN: “Yes, but ultimately it’s their decision. Wearing a letter, mentally, I’ve already taken on a bigger role as a leader on the team [as an alternate captain]. I think guys look up to me and I look up to other guys in the locker room, so we have a great core of guys that are leaders and we all rely on each other. It makes it easy for myself when everyone’s doing the right thing and everyone’s leading by example.”