Red Wings Make All-Star Game Case For Larkin: "Well, He’s Obviously Unbelievable"

He's up against a tough field in the Last Men In Vote.

Will Burchfield
January 08, 2019 - 4:08 pm

© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Categories: 

Jimmy Howard will represent the Red Wings at the All-Star Game later this month, a deserving honor for the goalie who's kept his team in just about every game this season. But there's a case to be made Dylan Larkin should be going instead. Howard said so himself

It's a common sentiment in the Red Wings locker room. Justin Abdelkader said he was "shocked" Larkin was left off the Atlantic Division roster by the NHL's Hockey Operations Department. Larkin leads Detroit with 41 points in 44 games and is establishing himself as one of the best young centers in the league.

He has answered, loudly and clearly, Jeff Blashill's challenge to take his game to the elite level in his fourth NHL season. 

Fortunately for Larkin -- or perhaps not, if he'd prefer the time off -- a path remains to the All-Star Game via the Last Men In Vote. One player from each division will be selected by the fans to join his fellow luminaries in San Jose Jan. 25-26. Balloting runs through Jan. 10

And thus the question was posed in Detroit's locker room on Tuesday morning: If you were Larkin's publicist and charged with making his case for the All-Star Game, where would you start? What would you say? 

"Well, he’s obviously unbelievable," said Andreas Athanasiou, whose 15 goals are second on the team to Larkin's 18. "And he can fly, definitely one of the – if not the – fastest skaters in the league, so he’s got that. I mean, he’s already been there once, so he’s definitely capable of being there, and I think a lot of people put him in that category with all those top players." 

Larkin first went to the All-Star Game as a rookie in the 2015-16 season, mostly on the strength of 15 goals in the first half. His credentials this time around are much more complete. A goal-scoring winger has become a No. 1 center.

Every night Larkin plays against the opposition's top line -- the task that used to fall to Henrik Zetterberg -- and he's still racking up nearly a point per game. He recently went on a 14-game point streak. It ended last week against the Flames, and Larkin has a point in both games since. 

So, Justin Abdelkader, what would you say? 

"He had one of the longest point streaks in the league going there. The four overtime goals that he’s scored have been huge. I think just the way he makes players around him better and obviously our team better -- he’s a player that when I heard he wasn’t going I was shocked. I know there’s a lot of other good players, but hopefully fans recognize the work he’s put in this year and the job he’s done for us this season," Abdelkader said. 

Those four overtime goals are tops in the league. It's an area where Larkin said he needed to be better at the end of last season, in addition to the power play. He's stepped up in both cases. His potency in overtime, where all the open ice allows his speed to shine, would make him a natural fit for the All-Star Game -- a three-on-three affair. 

"Where would I start? It’s three on three, right?" Jeff Blashill said with a smile. "Well, he’s pretty good at three on three. What are we picking it based on? He’s been an elite three-on-three player this year -- he’s got four overtime winners -- and that’s what the All-Star Game is." 

To no surprise, Larkin's up against a tough field in the Atlantic Division in the final vote: Boston's Patrice Bergeron, Buffalo's Jeff Skinner, Florida's Aleksander Barkov, Montreal's Shea Weber, Ottawa's Mark Stone, Tampa Bay's Brayden Point and Toronto's Morgan Rielly. Especially strong cases can be made for Skinner, whose 28 goals rank second in the league; Point, who's averaging 1.3 points per game; and Rielly, who leads Eastern Conference defensemen with 45 points. 

"They’re all real good players in that vote, so it’s a really fine line," Blahill said. "Obviously for us, he’s been our best player on a nightly basis. He’s done an outstanding job of taking a very hard next step, which is continuing to be a real good two-way center but adding even more offense. I think the world of him. I think he’s certainly deserved of going, but so are a number of other guys.

"I’d go back to the question of, what are you picking it on? If you want highlights in that three on three, it’d be a great pick."