Future Detroit Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin continues to improve year after year. After a down sophomore year in which he had just 32 points in 80 games, Larkin nearly doubled his point total in 2017-18 and set a career high in 2018-19 with 73 points in 76 games.
While he isn’t a franchise-changing player like Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby, the Red Wings certainly struck gold with their 15th pick in the 2014 NHL draft. Centering a line with Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi, the Red Wings’ top line was dominant and was a big reason for their late-season winning streak.
There’s a lot to like here. As stated earlier, his line dominated possession at 5 on 5, and the RAPM chart backs it up, as he was almost three standard deviations better than league average.
Surprisingly, his expected goals for mark is an entire standard deviation higher than his goals for. Larkin was on the ice for 51 goals for and 55 goals against, according to Natural Stat Trick — obviously not ideal. However, once Mantha and Bertuzzi became his permanent linemates (beginning March 23), he was on the ice for 10 goals and five against in those eight games.
And of course, his defensive game still needs some work, but it’s something that continues to improve with age and experience.
On the power play, Larkin took a big step forward, scoring seven goals and adding eight assists after scoring just once and adding seven assists in 2017-18. Larkin, and the rest of the team for that matter, have to be able to produce on the power play since scoring at 5 on 5 is a struggle.
Larkin’s offensive production is well-rounded. He scores at even strength, on the power play and manages to chip in a few points on the penalty kill.
Larkin broke the 30-goal mark this season, the first Red Wing to do that since the 2008-09 season. It probably is asking too much for Larkin to reach 40 goals next season, but I think anything in the 35-goal range is entirely possible. Larkin isn’t a pure goal-scorer like Mantha or Andreas Athanasiou, but he does have a nose for the net.
It would also benefit him to take better care of the puck — 100 giveaways is a career high. However, having the puck a lot generally translates into giving up the puck a lot. The takeaways are improving, which is a good sign.
Again, the excellent 5 on 5 play is on full display. Larkin only trailed Mantha in 5 on 5 Corsi for, but Mantha also played 11 fewer games.
Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense, and Larkin, generally playing against the other team’s top line, can be suffocating. He still has a ways to go to be tops in the NHL — Jordan Staal led the league with a 59.64 CF% of all players who played at least 500 minutes — but it’s a good sign to see a fourth-year player over 50% on a team that struggles defensively.
Larkin was one of the lone bright spots on a Red Wings team that was underwhelming overall. Regardless of how this year’s draft shakes out, Larkin will be a fixture for Detroit at the center position for years to come. He has the makings of a true No. 1 center, but being able to play Larkin on the second line would give opposing teams fits.
I’m excited to see what he has in store for next season. Like I said earlier, I’m not expecting him to clear the 40-goal mark, but if he can reach 35ish goals and improve on keeping the puck out of his own net, it’ll be a nice season.
It’ll be interesting to see how long coach Jeff Blashill keeps Larkin with Mantha and Bertuzzi. I assume they’ll start the season together after finishing 2018-19 so strong, but Blashill is always quick to pull out the line blender when things start to go south.