Team USA's Dylan Larkin (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
The 2014 first-rounder had a great freshman campaign with the Wolverines, but the pros are also a viable option for next season. Larkin's play at the World Championship for Team USA will be a good test.
Wherever center Dylan Larkin ends up next season, some folks in Michigan are going to be happy – specifically which folks is still up in the air.
As Elliotte Friedman noted on TV Sunday night, Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock were headed to the Czech Republic to take in the World Championship and one player of particular interest was Team USA's Larkin, the Wings' first-round draft pick (15th overall) in 2014.
After an excellent freshman season at the University of Michigan, Larkin now has a decision to make: return to the Wolverines in the fall, or sign with Detroit and turn pro. My sources tell me that Larkin's play at the worlds will be a gauge for the youngster, who is trying to figure out whether or not he's ready to play against pro competition.
Should Larkin sign with Detroit, he would most likely spend the season in the AHL with Grand Rapids, a team that has consistently been successful recently under the stewardship of coach Jeff Blashill. He would be playing against older and tougher competition in the pros than he would in college and would still be made available for Team USA's world junior team – which is great news for the Americans, since Larkin was one of their best players in Montreal this year.
On the other hand, Larkin can return to Michigan and figuratively be the big man on campus. Since fellow pivot Andrew Copp signed with Winnipeg recently, Larkin would be the No. 1 center in Ann Arbor, with all the prime ice time that comes with such a distinction.
The Wolverines have a nice recruiting class coming in, headlined by 2015 lottery pick Kyle Connor, fellow scorer Cooper Marody and sturdy defensemen Joseph Cecconi and Nick Boka (speedy winger Brendan Warren's another good one). But losing Larkin on top of Copp would be painful. Michigan has missed the NCAA tournament three years in a row after making it the previous 22 times and though goaltending has been the biggest thorn, the program can't get leaky elsewhere.
From what I've been told, the Red Wings would be happy with Larkin's decision either way. If he returns to Michigan, he gets to play that big role on a young team (the team had a dearth of juniors this season, so there will only be a handful of seniors next year) and he can learn from mistakes now rather than in a couple years when he's in the NHL.
As for Larkin's experience at the worlds so far, there's still a lot of hockey to play. But he was trusted as a penalty killer against the Russians in what turned out to be a surprise American victory, so that's pretty good. If he comes out of the tournament with a lot of confidence, we may seen him in Grand Rapids instead of Ann Arbor next season.