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Dylan Larkin says learning curve with playing center is over, believes in Red Wings youth

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Posted at 10:08 PM, Jul 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-21 22:08:00-04

Dylan Larkin has played a lot of hockey the last two years.

Doing the math quickly in his head, the Red Wings forward said he's played roughly 100 games each of the couple seasons.

He played in the World Cup of Hockey and World Championships on top of his day job with Detroit.

"I felt pretty good in the last two years in the beginning of the season, but I kinda felt like I didn't have my legs and felt tired at the end," he said this week at his Hockey School at Waterford's Lakeland Arena.

"I'm trying to rest and make sure I'm ready for a full 82 games."

That's easier said than done. Larkin spent the offseason after his rookie year bulking up and getting stronger. The Red Wings saw teams pushing him around too much in the back half of his rookie campaign, so he worked to change that.

Jeff Blashill put him at center, counting on more production after an impressive 23-goal, 22-assist debut season.

There were growing pains, ultimately finding Larkin back on the wing for most of the season. He returned to center at the end of the season, and said the organization is counting on him to start there again this year.

"It was a learning curve and I think I got, at least, on the upward trend of that curve. Now I just gotta keep moving forward. I don't think, going into next season, there should be any learning. It's just playing hockey," he said.

There's more work ahead.

Larkin finished last season with 17 goals and 15 assists, and his plus-minus dipped from plus-11 in 2015-16 to minus-28 in 2016-17. The Red Wings have a close eye on his development, because the former first round pick is a key part of the team's youthful core that needs to take steps forward to return to contention.

"We got youthful energy. We got good young players, good veterans, and good goaltending. We're moving into a new building, and if we're healthy, it's gonna be a good time (to be) a Red Wings fan and a Red Wings player."

That sounds good, but I asked him if that youthful energy can translate into wins -- and contention -- against some of the NHL's best teams.

He brought up one game he believes proves that optimism to be true: the final game at Joe Louis Arena.

"If we play the way we're capable of playing, I mean you look at the last game, we were fast and the building was rocking. We really took it to New Jersey," he recalled.

Larkin said he wasn't alone in looking at that night so fondly. The locker room was buzzing with optimism - and a little bit of regret.

"We said, 'We could have played like that all the time,'" he said.

The nature of the NHL's salary cap era has left the Red Wings without a free agent prize to change the fortune of the franchise. To win, teams now almost always bottom out to grab top-tier talent in the Entry Draft. 

That may or may not happen with the Red Wings, but Larkin is counting on carrying the attitude of the season finale into the new era at Little Caesars Arena.

"In the new building, there's gonna be a lot of new excitement and we're gonna feed off that for sure."