As far as the Red Wings go this weekend, everything is about Dylan Larkin. Sure, it’s been close to that throughout the regular season, but for today and tomorrow, he’ll be the only player on the team hitting the ice with purpose. Larkin is the 75th player or coach to represent the Red Wings in the event and hopes to carry on the legacies of those before him.
I suppose there’s a shade of possibility that the 19-year-old could chase Mr. Hockey’s franchise (and league, and all of professional sports) record for most appearances, but I wouldn’t consider it likely. Howe’s first appearance was at the same age, and he only missed two games (1956 and 1966) between then and his last year in Detroit, which saw the 42-year-old participate for what everyone assumed would be the last time (he returned nearly a decade later). For Larkin to do that in this era, however, he’d have to have a Jaromir Jagr-esque career with no down years, lockouts, or vacations in Russia; a tough task to say the least.
It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that he could find himself somewhere in the group, above, though; in a format where each team is guaranteed a player, the idea of him being the best choice for the Wings at least four more times in his career here isn’t overly insane. For now, though, we’ll focus on the one appearance.
As mentioned before, Larkin is the 75th Red Wing to get the honour; but perhaps that number is slightly inflated. After all, the original format of the modern All-Star Game was “Stanley Cup Champions vs. the rest of the league”, allowing for support players on the best teams to get their shot as well. Detroit sent full rosters on three occasions; 1950, 1954, and 1955. Impressively, the Wings lost none of these games, blowing out 1950 game by a score of 7-1 while tying 2-2 in 1954 and winning 3-1 in their final go at the format.
Historically, most appearances of the Winged Wheel during the festivities have come from centers and defensemen. Neither is surprising; both positions have 63 total representations afforded to them. There are more defensemen as individuals who have played in the game (23), while the centers who got there once tended to head back repeatedly; the Pavel Datsyuks, Sergei Fedorovs, Sid Abels, Steve Yzermans, and Alex Delvecchios of the world.
Beyond the top two positions, the Wings have been represented at Right Wing 29 times (22 by Howe, 7 but 6 others), Left Wing 38 times (15 players), and in goal 16 times (6 goalies). Tommy Ivan, Jimmy Skinner, Scotty Bowman, Dave Lewis, and Mike Babcock have represented the team a combined 14 times behind the bench.
As far as trying to live up to the accomplishments of the former Wings in the exhibition weekend itself, Larkin doesn’t have as much to attempt to reach up to. The Red Wings have only had two MVP’s since they started naming one in 1962; Gordie Howe won in 1965 and Frank Mahovlich won in 1969.
Perhaps Larkin can try to live up to Sergei Fedorov’s legacy in the skills competition, where he’ll be participating in three events. One of those events is the Fastest Skater competition, which Fedorov won in 1992 and 1994. Fedorov also won the Hardest Shot competition in 2002, the same year as Dominik Hasek split the Breakaway Relay with Patrick Roy. Beyond that group, the only other Red Wing to win a skills competition event is Brendan Shanahan, who found himself in a 3-way tie for accuracy shooting in 1998.
At the end of the day, though, the event isn’t designed to put too much pressure on the guys, especially ones as young as Larkin. It’s a weekend of casual play to celebrate the game and have some fun, whether it’s amongst the typically-rival players, or with the fans who get to see their heroes in the same place.