Top Red Wings prospect Dylan Thomas hopes new coach Jeff Blashill signals a change in the team's notoriously slow player development philosophy.
Traditionally, it takes more than a high-end blend of skill, speed and hockey sense for a youngster to earn a spot on the Detroit Red Wings.
It also requires patience. A lot of patience.
Detroit is notorious for leaving its prospects to simmer in the minors far longer than other organizations. That long view has proven beneficial to the Wings, who boast one of the league’s most effective development programs, but it doesn’t always sit well with players who feel they’ve paid their dues and are ready to make the jump, only to have the organization leave them to hone their craft for another season or two in the AHL.
But at least one player believes that the coaching change from Mike Babcock to Jeff Blashill could lead to a shift in philosophy.
“That is one of the reasons I decided to sign and leave college,” top prospect Dylan Larkin told NHL.com. “There is a new coach and there seems to be some older players who might be on their way out.”
That might be a bit presumptuous. General manager Ken Holland is the one who makes the calls to promote players, and he’s still in place. And the odds are better than even money that Blashill—the man who was in charge of that organizational back burner as the bench boss in Grand Rapids—adheres to the organizational philosophy.
And as far as older players who might be on their way out, well, Danny Cleary says “don't hold your breath, kid.”
Still, Larkin might be right about the change behind the bench creating a unique opportunity. The Wings aren’t exactly a team in transition, but Babcock's departure—which captain Henrik Zetterberg described last week as a the result of mutual feeling on the part of the coach and the players that it was time to part—and Blashill’s arrival hints at a leaning toward tomorrow. And if there’s an opening, Larkin’s chances are likely better under the new man since Blashill has a familiarity with the 19-year-old that Babcock didn’t.
Larkin, the 15th pick in the 2014 draft, left school after leading the Michigan Wolverines in scoring as a freshman (15 goals, 47 points in 35 games). He has his eye on proving himself in front of Blashill, the man everyone expected to become the next coach of the Wings.
“Jumping in and playing in GR and playing for him was a valuable experience,” Larkin said of his late-season stint in the minors. “I was trying to show him how I work and and I wanted to jump all over that opportunity.”
Larkin made the most of his time with the Griffins, notching three goals and five points in six AHL playoff games, an effort that Blashill isn’t likely to forget.
Would Babcock have afforded Larkin that opportunity? Maybe. He didn’t become the most highly regarded (and best-paid) coach in the league by burying players who could help his team win. But he also had a different measure of a player’s readiness than most of those players had of themselves. Top prospect or not (hello, Anthony Mantha), Babcock believed they could always better themselves with some time spent riding the buses.
But he’s gone now, off to kickstart the long rebuild of the Toronto Maple Leafs. So, combined with the absence of Pavel Datsyuk, who is out until November after undergoing ankle surgery, there does seem to be an opportunity for Larkin that simply wouldn’t have existed without the change behind the bench. And he’s ready to take advantage of it.
“I think I’ll be a dominant player all over the ice,” Larkin told NHL.com of his goals. “I’ll be a player than can play against the other team’s top line and can still produce offense. It might take a while, but it does for everyone to become a dominant player.”
It might take Larkin a while to fulfilling those goals. But with Babcock gone, becoming a Red Wing might not take him long at all.
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