The Red Wings finished up some important business a few days ago when they signed Dylan Larkin to a new five-year contract worth $6.1 million per year. With Larkin looking like the future of the Red Wings, it was almost a no-brainer for GM Ken Holland to lock him up now, forgoing the infamous bridge deal that has been becoming less and less popular in recent memory. With Larkin's long-term contract comes a much higher cap hit though, and there are a few who think Larkin is making more than he's worth.
Even though $6.1 million isn’t cheap, Larkin's proven his worth and has the potential to become an even better fantasy asset next season. After a solid rookie season that saw Larkin collect 23 goals and 45 points, fantasy owners soured on the young forward after a disappointing sophomore season. Larkin struggled throughout the year and failed to build on his first season, only posting 32 points (12 less than the previous year). Heading into his third NHL season, there was a lot less optimism around one of the Wings’ best young forwards, especially as the team around him continued to decline.
Larkin surprised many though with a huge bounce-back season, posting career-highs in several fantasy categories. His 63 points were tied for the 58th most in the NHL, not elite but not bad for a player with an average draft position as low as 223rd overall. While most of his points were in assists (Larkin only finished with 16 goals), he also saw huge increases in penalty minutes and shots.
Larkin’s breakout fantasy season didn't go unnoticed but still might get overlooked as poolies are selecting their rosters for next season. Despite posting 63 points as a 21-year-old, those numbers were overshadowed by huge performances by other young skaters such as Nathan MacKinnon, Mathew Barzal, and Mikko Rantanen, who all averaged at least a point per game. Also, the Detroit Red Wings are once again projected to be one of the worst teams in the league next season, so it will be hard for Larkin to produce a lot of value with a lack of supporting talent around him. Combined with his new pricey extension (for those in cap leagues) and you have some fantasy owners who might be looking to stay away from the Red Wings new highest paid player.
Their loss is another person's gain though, as there are several underlying signs that Larkin can provide even more value next season. Larkin's 63 points along aren’t very impressive until you take a look at his production by game strength. His 52 even-strength points were tied for the 23rd-most in the entire league, which were just as many as Evgeny Kuznetsov and one more than Sidney Crosby and John Tavares. Out of all skaters last year, he was only one of two players to record more than 60 points with less than 10 power-play points. His even-strength scoring was some of the strongest in the league, but he was very unlucky with accumulating points on the man advantage. If Larkin can score just even an average amount of power-play points next season, it would be very easy for him to hit 70 points or higher.
Also, Larkin finished the year at 63 points with only 16 goals. Even though he hasn’t shown that he can be even an above-average goal scorer in the NHL, it’s unlikely that he’ll finish with a shooting percentage below 7 percent again. If Larkin shot his career average, he would have finish with at least 20 goals. Considering that Larkin is one of the NHL’s best at generating shots on goal (36th-most out of all players last season), he also has plenty of potential to improve his goal total. If Larkin took 240 shots next year and saw his shooting percentage rise to just 11 percent, he’d end with 26 goals and have a very good chance of finishing with a new career high in points.
And even if Larkin doesn’t see any increase in points, he has a solid foundation of strong peripherals. Besides excellent shot totals (40th most shots taken over the last three years combined), Larkin’s no slouch in the hits and penalty minute categories. His plus/minus will still likely be bad (only four players on the entire team finished with a positive plus/minus rating) but he contributes in many other categories.
Overall, Larkin looks like a good bet for next season, as he still has plenty of room to grow after his breakout season last year. With just a little more shooting percentage luck and a few more power-play points, Larkin could become next year's Sean Couturier or Vincent Trocheck.