Dylan Larkin is 19 years old and just 12 months removed from the University of Michigan, but in the hardest-fought All-Star Game in decades, he was on the ice for the final minute.
Larkin couldn’t help the Atlantic Division tie the game – he slipped on his best scoring chance – but the fact that Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant picked him for the game’s final shift says a great deal about the Red Wings’ youngest player.
In the Atlantic Division’s semifinal win over the Metropolitan Division, Larkin had three assists while spending a lot of time on the ice with Jaromir Jagr – a man who made his first All-Star appearance three years before Larkin was born.
Larkin set up goals for Erik Karlsson, Jagr and the game winner for P.K. Subban as the Atlantic Division advanced to the championship match against the Pacific Division.
Those 20 minutes were played like as seriously as any regular-season game you’d like to see, especially with a $1 million being split among the 11 players on the winning team. Larkin looked right at home, spending most of the game on a unit with Karlsson and Steven Stamkos. He led the Atlantic Division with four shots on goal – Joe Pavelski had five for the Pacific Division – and forced John Gibson into a tough save in the final minute.
Larkin’s most spectacular play, though, showed off the same speed that had let him set a record in the fastest-skater competition on Saturday. Early in the second half, Larkin took the puck inside his own blue line, circled back in front of his net and blasted up the ice.
Before his teammates could get up ice or his opponents could react, Larkin had flown past everyone, faked a shot and circled behind the net. Gibson had to dive across the crease, stick outstretched in front of him, to stop the wraparound attempt that no one else had seen coming.
That play, plus the two takeaways he had in the second half, gave Gallant plenty of reason to put him on the ice alongside Karlsson, Stamkos and Patrice Bergeron for the final minute. It didn’t work, but it showed what has been obvious to Jeff Blashill and Red Wings fans all season – Larkin belongs at this level.
Larkin is currently tied for the NHL lead at plus-24, playing for a Detroit team that has allowed more goals than it has scored. Only two other Red Wings have plus-minus ratings in double figures – future Hall of Famer Pavel Datsyuk (plus-12) and defenseman Danny DeKeyser (plus-11).
He also leads the Red Wings with 15 goals and is tied with Henrik Zetterberg for the team lead with 33 points. He also leads Detroit in offensive point shares with 3.3, well ahead of Tomas Tatar’s 2.9, and is third on the roster in defensive point shares with 2.0, trailing only DeKeyser and fellow defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. His 5.3 total point shares are second on the team to Detroit’s other budding superstar, goaltender Petr Mrazek.
Even some advanced metrics show him near the top of the class. His 107.6 PDO – his teams shooting percentage plus save percentage when he’s on the ice in 5-on-5 situations – is easily Detroit’s best, beating out DeKeyser’s 104.4.
The only quibble is with his Corsi and Fenwick stats. His Corsi For percentage of 50.9 is slightly below the team average and nowhere near the 58.4 percent that Datsyuk is still posting at the age of 37.
He’s 19 years old, and as he said on the All-Star Game telecast, a year ago he was watching the game while studying for his classes at Michigan. If the biggest hole you can find in his game is that he isn’t quite as good a two-way player as Datsyuk, he’s going to have a pretty good NHL career.