The Michigan native acted out the "sophomore slump" narrative in 2016-17, slipping by 12 points compared to his rookie campaign and moving from a team-best plus-11 rating to a hideous minus-28. Larkin’s fifth-place in the Calder Cup voting was met with sky-high expectations, but the Wings were perpetually injured, while the young forward pivoted away from his natural center position at times. He'd finish down the middle, gelling with fellow speedster Andreas Athanasiou to produce a point in five of the season’s final six contests. Larkin set a record for fastest skater in the 2016 NHL All-Star Skills competition, but he's still figuring out the best way to harness that speed in a way that benefits his linemates. While it may be true that Larkin is at his offensive best when he's the one carrying the puck, he posted the worst faceoff winning percentage among Detroit centers who took at least 100 draws last year -- unless he improves in that area, another switch to left wing can't be ruled out. Still, the 21-year-old is mature beyond his years and universally admired for his self-discipline. His next obstacle is to consistently skate in the top six, but the power-play role will stick, and we'd hedge on a significant bounceback season for Larkin.
With his breakneck speed and nose for the net, Larkin tallied 23 goals on 221 shots with a plus-11 rating as a rookie last season, securing team highs in each of those categories. Even so, the hometown boy isn’t the type who will rest on his laurels. Now that Pavel Datsyuk – a surefire Hall of Famer – has jettisoned for Russia, it will be up to young guns like Larkin to carry more of the weight offensively. Specifically, the power play could use a massive boost. Larkin averaged 2:14 of ice time on the man advantage in 2015-16, but only had five power-play tallies, which barely made up 11 percent of his point total. Although the 20-year-old is too popular to qualify as a sleeper pick, you won’t want to overlook Larkin in fantasy drafts, as he’s mature beyond his years and figures to see his usage spike a great deal compared to the 16:33 of ice time he averaged last year.
The Red Wings' 2014 first-round draft pick, Larkin shined at the University of Michigan in 2014-15, piling up 15 goals and 47 points in 35 games. If the performance against NCAA competition didn't already have his value on the rise, the 19-year-old surely turned some more heads with his dominant showing at the World Junior Championships, where he scored five times in five games. The 6-foot-1 forward is just one of several young, offensively advanced talents coming through the Detroit pipeline, and he's expected to continue his excellence at AHL Grand Rapids to open the upcoming season. Larkin possesses the size and hockey intelligence to eventually make an impact at the NHL level, perhaps as soon as the second half of this season if the Red Wings determine he's an upgrade over their existing second- or third-line options. He'll remain a staple of most prospects lists until he debuts with the Red Wings.
Looking for the next Ryan O’Reilly? You might just find him in Larkin. This guy is fast and super smart, and he just oozes leadership. Scouts aren’t sold on his offensive ceiling, but it’s hard to know where he’ll top out. Right now, he looks to pass first, second and third. But he has a good shot with a quick release. He already carries himself like a pro (read: chill and low maintenance) and he’ll be headed to the University of Michigan in the fall to learn from hockey legend Red Berenson. Wait on him in dynasty formats. But keep his name tucked away, as he could be a valuable, top-six fantasy contributor in a handful of seasons.