Wings prospect Larkin impressing at World Junior Championship

DETROIT — The Red Wings had high hopes for Dylan Larkin, the center they drafted 15th overall in the NHL Entry Draft last year.

So far, Larkin has done nothing to dash those hopes.

Currently a freshman at Michigan, Larkin made Team USA and is playing in the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship tournament in Montreal and Toronto.

After Christmas, Wings general manager Ken Holland went to Montreal to check in on Larkin and a few other Wings prospects.

"It’s a tournament of potential and prospects," Holland said. "It’s really a 19-year-old tournament. As the tournament wears on, the best players usually are 19 years old."

Larkin, 18, is tied for second in scoring with seven points through the first four games.

"I was very impressed with the way he played," Holland said. "Larkin’s an 18-year-old so he’s got another year to come back to the tournament. He’s had a very good tournament. He’s a good skater, good two-way player. I think he’s done everything that Team USA would want."

Larkin has five goals and two assists, yet he’s known for more than just offense.

"Plays hard both ways," Holland said. "He can transport the puck up the ice, he makes little plays. He competes hard. He’s a good prospect, a good player. Our scouts liked him a lot when we picked him. Certainly the way he’s played at Michigan and now the way he’s played at World Junior, we’re very happy with where he’s at with his development."

At Michigan, Larkin leads all Big Ten freshmen in scoring with 16 points (three goals, 13 assists).

The Wings have four other players participating at the World Junior Championship.

The Winnipeg Jets have six prospects in the tournament. The Wings are tied with the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks with five.

Joe Hicketts is a defenseman playing for Team Canada, an impressive accomplishment in itself for an undrafted player.

The Wings signed Hicketts as a free agent after he impressed them with his play in the development camp and prospects tournament.

"Hicketts, again he’s an 18-year-old, he’s got another year to play," Holland said. "He’s had a fabulous year in Victoria, the Western League. Just before he was assigned to the World Junior camp, I think he was the fourth-leading scorer in the entire league as a defenseman. He’s played regular, he’s played safe. He competes hard, he blocks shots. 

"They (Team Canada) dress seven defensemen, they rotate seven defensemen. They’ve got three, four defensemen that are go-to defensemen. Again, they’re the 19-year-old guys. But it’s good experience for him for his development."

Hicketts plays for the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League and leads WHL defensemen with 38 points (eight goals) in 31 games. He has one assist in four games with Team Canada.

The other three Wings prospects in the World Junior Championship are forwards, Axel Holmstom and Christoffer Ehn for Team Sweden, and Julius Vahatalo for Team Finland.

Ehn, Holmstrom and Vahatalo were chosen in the fourth, seventh and sixth rounds of the 2014 draft, respectively.

"Vahatalo, the Finn, he didn’t play much," Holland said. "He played very sparingly so I only saw him play a few shifts."

Team Sweden played in Group B, which played its preliminary games in Toronto.

Kris Draper, special assistant to Holland, went to Toronto to see Ehn and Holmstrom.

Holmstrom found his scoring touch with one goal and four assists in four games. Ehn has one assist.

"Axel Holmstrom has had a very good tournament, he had an assist (Tuesday) in their 3-2 win," Holland said. "Good hockey sense, good hands. Skating probably is the area that needs to improve but he goes to the hard areas, he’s gritty, he’s determined, he goes to the front of the net. He’s an important player on the Sweden team. And then Ehn, he’s more of a two-way player. He plays solid. Most of our players are 18 years of age, will be back in the tournament next year."

All of the Wings’ prospects will be back in action Friday in the quarterfinals.

Team USA (2-1-0-1) plays Team Russia (1-1-0-2) at the Bell Centre at 1 p.m. ET, Team Sweden (4-0-0-0) faces Team Finland (1-0-1-2) at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre at 3 p.m. and Team Canada (4-0-0-0) plays Team Denmark (0-1-2-1) at the Air Canada Centre at 8 p.m.