Larkin's path to All-Star Game is no surprise

Posted at 10:08 PM, Jan 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-29 22:08:45-05

It was the morning of January 6, and the Red Wings were practicing at home to break up a six-game road trip.

I got a tip. There was going to be a big announcement after the skate.

My first thought was centered on the Red Wings getting a Winter Classic rematch against the Maple Leafs, but this time in Toronto. Not likely.

Could there be an All-Star Game coming to the team's new building? The earliest possibility for that would be 2018, but that's an Olympic year, and the NHL still hadn't decided its future in the Games.

So my mind settled on this year's All-Star rosters. Dylan Larkin was leading the Red Wings in goals, and had been at the top of the NHL in plus-minus rating. 

That's it. He's going to be in the game.

Sure enough, the official word came down from the league. Larkin was in. The 19-year-old had become the first Red Wings rookie to make the All-Star Game since Steve Yzerman.

"It's pretty cool, but it's just another event," he said moments after the news came out. "I still want more for myself and more for the team."


It's probably safe to assume 95 percent of teenagers would have a much different, more understandably irreverent reaction to the news.

Freaking out, impossibly holding back emotions: it all would have been acceptable in front of the dozen reporters collected at the rink.

Not for Larkin. This is the guy who told me at training camp his No. 1 goal as a hockey player (that he's since repeated a few times).

"Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be the best player in the world." 

What he's done this season is pretty remarkable. He's added speed to a Red Wings team desperate for a boost in that department, and he's provided a consistent knack for being in the right place only seen in a steady veteran's play.

In most of his biggest moments, it's easy to forget he's only 19 years old.

Draft and dream

Weeks after the Red Wings drafted Larkin in 2014, he joined Matt Dery, Mike Stone, and me on the Suburban Ford 7 Sports Cave, our Sunday morning show on WXYZ.

Larkin talked about the draft process, and his excitement in joining his hometown team. He also admitted he found himself star-struck during his interview with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"When Steve Yzerman was there, I was pretty nervous about that interview. But he's a pretty nice guy so it worked out," Larkin told us in July 2014.

Star-struck doesn't usually describe Larkin, but he has been smart to respect his veteran teammates in Detroit. Larkin constantly tells us he is in awe of watching Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk up close. 

They've been there every step of the way, tipping their caps to the rookie.

It's almost like Larkin has been waiting for each moment like he has Biff Tannen's Grays Sports Almanac.

On that July day on the Sports Cave, he knew he was headed to Ann Arbor to start his freshman year of school at Michigan, and yet his response to another question caught us off guard.

"After being a first round pick, it's kind of back to reality this fall, isn't it?" Dery asked him.

Larkin hesitated.

"No. No, I think it's a 'dream come true' gets to continue," he said.

Larkin told us he committed to Michigan "three or four years ago."

That means he's been planning all of this since he was still a freshman in high school. Talent is one thing. Larkin has more.

Time to show off

Friday was media day in Nashville. Each All-Star got his own table to answer questions from reporters.

"Dylan Larkin told me he's more nervous here then he is for a regular game because he doesn't really know anyone. But they know him," writer Dan Rosen said on Friday.

Saturday night, Larkin will participate in three All-Star Skills Competition events before taking part in the three-on-three tournament in Nashville on Sunday.

All of those events present a wildly different pace for a guy who was playing college hockey this time last year. He made the jump from Team USA's Developmental Team to Michigan, and then to Grand Rapids in a matter of months.

He's now the leading goal scorer on the Red Wings roster with 15 goals through 48 games.

Through it all, he's maintained his cool, even when his locker stall at Joe Louis Arena has 20-30 media members surrounding it.

In Nashville on Friday, he played the same song.

"You gotta soak it all in, and meet some of the other guys in the league that are a little bit better and have been around for a while," he said.

More wisdom? Why not.

Seeing him selected to the All-Star Game is the latest accolade for the guy who started the season on Detroit's top line. He scored in his first game. He's made veteran goalies look silly. He chipped a tooth, then scored a goal on his next shift in a game against Buffalo before the break. 

The early success this season sounds like folklore, but in Detroit, people are happy to believe it.

In this salary cap era of the NHL, teams that fail are rewarded with instant talent at the top of the draft. The Red Wings have made the playoffs for the last two and a half decades. Instant talent hasn't been the name of the game.

Larkin has been the exception to that rule. 

And the more we watch him, the less we should be surprised.

Brad Galli is a sports reporter and anchor at WXYZ Detroit. Follow Brad on Twitter @BradGalli