Photo Credit: Leon Halip/USA TODAY SPORTS
It’s not hard to understand why Red Wings fans have fallen in love with Dylan Larkin. He was born in Michigan, raised in Michigan, developed in Michigan, and is living the dream of kids across the state as the first teenager to get a regular roster spot with the team in this century.
To break through the “slow cooker” model of development and score more points than any teenaged rookie other than Steve Yzerman in team history is impressive. But there’s a bigger question at hand; does it stack up to the rest of the league?
Many are hoping that Larkin will be the first Red Wings rookie since Roger Crozier in 1965 to win the Calder Trophy, or, alternatively, the first skater to do it in a Detroit jersey since 27-year-old (!!) Jim McFadden in 1947-48. But there’s a problem; the class ahead of him is a tough one to break.
After all, this is a year where two expected generational talents in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel burst onto the scene. It’s a year where the rich got richer, as the Chicago Blackhawks picked up their own McFadden in 24-year-old Artemi Panarin, who was already one of the KHL’s best players before playing a single game in North America. You also have 22-year-old Shayne Gostisbehere, who looked like an excellent college player, had his rookie year spoiled by an ACL injury, and came back to be one of the league’s best offensive defensemen with the Flyers.
Larkin’s biggest issue, perhaps, is that the fact that he’s been “good enough” compared to his peers, but rarely flat out better. He uses his speed to draw penalties (+8 more drawn than taken), but Eichel does it at an elite level (+17). His rate production is better than Panarin’s, but McDavid’s hints that he might be in the ‘best in the world’ conversation already. His team relative possession numbers are stable, but so are everybody else’s. Gostisbehere’s production is boosted up by how much time he spends on the powerplay, but he makes that powerplay better.
There’s nothing that you can hold against Larkin here. The only thing he is bad at compared to these five is the amount of time that he spends on the ice, but that’s more because Jeff Blashill has enough available talent to ease Larkin’s legs into the grind of playing in the NHL. This is especially after years of playing half the games in college, and as a result, he plays 2-3 minutes fewer a night than any of our options.
Larkin also has the “what have you done for me lately” disadvantage. Of the five, he has the fewest points (13 in 25 games) over his past two months, five points behind Panarin (18 in 21) and halfway to McDavid (28 in 25). Gositisbehere has his point streak attached to him, too, even if it’s been influenced by offensive zone sheltering and powerplay usage.
Ultimately, as long as Connor McDavid doesn’t fall off a cliff, it’s going to be hard to give the trophy to anyone else. Gostisbehere is likely going to get a nod for his underdog story, and even if Panarin is only a rookie on a technicality, winning the rookie scoring race will almost definitely get him a nod. Realistically, I’d be shocked of Larkin is a finalist, let alone the winner.
But you know what? That’s okay. A trophy brings bragging rights, but at the end of the day, Dylan Larkin has been a fantastic all-around contributor to the Detroit Red Wings, even without age and experience considered. When you do take those into account, though, he’s about as far ahead of schedule as he was ahead of everyone else during the fastest skater competition.
That’s what matters. If he doesn’t get enough votes to stand on a podium in Las Vegas come June, that’s okay. Steve Yzerman lost out on the Calder Trophy as well in his rookie season and followed that up by winning just about everything else and becoming one of the greatest players not just in team history, but league history.
I don’t know about you, but I’d take that outcome over the shiny trophy any day of the week.