Larkin Says To Prepare For "Young, Fast" Red Wings

The kids are here, and there are more on the way.

Will Burchfield
October 03, 2018 - 3:57 pm

© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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The years proceed, and the Red Wings continue to get younger. Their roster sifts through players like an hourglass in reverse. 

In the first game of the 2016-17 season, the team dressed three skaters under the age of 25. In the season opener last year, four. When the 2018-19 season gets underway Thursday night versus the Blue Jackets, the Red Wings will have at least eight skaters under the age of 25 in the lineup, quite possibly 11. 

Times have changed in Hockeytown, where a veteran team has given way to a youthful one. That's just fine for one of the few veterans left, 34-year-old Frans Nielsen. He smiled when asked about the evolving group on Tuesday. 

"There's a lot of new faces," he said as he glanced around the locker room. "You can feel a little bit that (the season's) getting closer in here, especially when you see those guys that haven’t played before, how anxious they are and how excited they are. I think it’s just going to rub off on all of us that have played here before."

Nielsen is entering his 11th full season in the NHL. The collective hunger of the youngsters around him, many of whom scrapped and clawed in September for a spot on the roster, is both refreshing and a reminder not to take the experience for granted. The idea of lasting this long may have seemed impossible to him when he was a 22-year-old fighting for a job with the Islanders. 

"Sometimes you forget how you were feeling and that you would give anything up just to play one game in this league. It brings you back a little bit when you see all these guys now and the push in their game," Nielsen said. "You can forget that you’re living a dream here. That’s what it’s all about, so it’s great to see that." 

The most promising of Detroit's core of young players is the one who's been here the longest, Dylan Larkin. The 22-year-old, who's on the cusp of greatness as he enters his fourth NHL season, has had a front row seat to the team's recent evolution. In fact, Larkin embodies it. 

If the Wings were a dinosaur starting to crumble when he arrived, they're now a hatchling finding its legs. 

"I think we’re going to be an exciting team to watch," Larkin said when asked about Detroit's identity. "We’re going to be youthful, we’re going to have a lot of speed and I think it’s the whole 60 minutes of (being) hard to play against. We’re going to be a fast team, hard to play against and we’re going to do it right. That’ll be our identity. It may not be pretty, but we’re going to outwork teams." 

That has been the message from day one. Jeff Blashill and the coaching staff warned the players that training camp would be demanding, more strenuous than in years past. The Wings don't have the talent to win in the fashion they used to, so they were going to skate, and they were going to skate some more. Nielsen, who's taken part in a few camps over the years, said it was as hard as any he's ever experienced.

The standard hasn't been lowered since. It won't be at any point in the year. Two days before the season-opener, practice left the players huffing and puffing. 

"I think we’ve made an emphasis of work and compete," Blashill said on Tuesday. "We’ve done it through training camp and we did it again today. I know that the heart rates got going again today. We have to work and compete to give ourselves the best chance to win every night." 

Shortly thereafter, the Red Wings released their final roster. It features four rookies in 19-year-old Michael Rasmussen, 20-year-old Dennis Cholowski, 22-year-old Cristoffer Enn and 24-year-old Libor Sulak, all of whom are expected to be in the lineup Thursday night. Joining them, without a doubt, will be Larkin, 23-year-old Tyler Bertuzzi and 24-year-olds Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou. 24-year-old Martin Frk could draw in as well.  

And with Niklas Kronwall, Mike Green and Jonathan Ericsson all out with health issues, 20-year-old Filip Hronek and 22-year-old Joe Hicketts are expected to be recalled from Grand Rapids to stabilize the back end. Imagine that. Detroit's blue line, for years the rickety problem that seemed impossible to shake, could feature four rookies on opening night. The picture will change when the aforementioned vets return, but the outlook will not. The kids have arrived, and there are more on the way. 

18-year-old Filip Zadina figures to play his way onto the team at some point this season. 21-year-old Evgeny Svechnikov will see action when he returns from a recent injury. The list goes on. If each player is different, they're all bound by potential. 

For the newcomers that are already here, Larkin has a message. It wasn't long ago that he was in their shoes, a rookie whipping out his phone to call his parents after getting the news that he had made the team.

"I remember that feeling," he smiled. 

As for what lies in store, they'll soon find out. 

"It is a long year for them. I don’t think they totally understand how much of a grind it is, but they will and that’s part of the process," Larkin said. "I just try to tell them to enjoy this first game and don’t hold back. Just be yourself and play the way that you did to get yourself here."