I’m taking a small break from my rankings (don’t worry, I’ll have a bunch of posts coming out next week) to start compiling sleeper and bust posts. Now that some other outlets are posting their rankings, I’m able to gauge who I’m going to be the high man on and who I’m going to be avoiding. Dylan Larkin is ranked outside of the top 100 everywhere else, yet I have him as the 40th best forward, which should put him somewhere between 50th and 60th overall. Maybe it’s unfair to call him a sleeper, but he’s certainly undervalued by quite a bit. So what makes Dylan Larkin an incredible value in drafts this year?
Let’s expand on the notes I have on Larkin in my rankings post. I don’t think people realized how good Larkin was last season because Detroit was an afterthought. They weren’t at the dead bottom of the standings so people didn’t take notice of them in the tank race, but they were never in playoff contention. Detroit was one of the teams I watched the least last season because they were a tough watch outside of the first line. Larkin scored 52 points at even strength, a total that put him in the top 20 in the NHL, and ahead of superstars such as Crosby and Tavares. His possession numbers had a nice bump despite taking on a tougher role and going against harder competition. His game breaking speed allows him to thrive at even strength putting pressure on opposing defensemen. Nothing in Larkin’s underlying numbers say that his 63 points were fluky. If anything, it shows that there is additional upside.
In Larkin’s first two seasons, he averaged a shooting percentage of 10%. Last season, he shot 6.9%. Not so nice with that decimal point in there. This wasn’t caused by his rise in shot rate, as evidenced by Larkin shooting 10.4% as a rookie in a very similar sample. Now, we don’t necessarily know that Larkin is a 10% shooter in the long term, because 160 games in his first two seasons isn’t enough of a sample size to make that judgment. However, I think it’s safe to assume we see him push back up towards that mark. That would put Larkin in the 25 goal range, and that’s if he has neutral luck. If Larkin has good luck this year (or another jump in shot rate), we could see 30 goals.
Larkin set a career high with seven power play points last season. That number is comically low. I don’t care if Larkin’s skill set is somewhat minimized with the man advantage, he should score at least 15 power play points with regular time. The return of Thomas Vanek and the possible addition of Filip Zadina could help their top unit quiet a bit. The growth of Anthony Mantha should also help Larkin as his linemates improve around him. Perhaps Larkin will be more disciplined this season causing his 61 PIM to drop back down, but it’ll still be in a respectable range.
To summarize, we have a 22 year old player who made a huge jump last season at even strength. He had incredibly poor luck on the power play, and also shot a lower percentage than normal. Despite being unlucky, he still posted 63 points. I’m not saying Larkin is going to make a massive jump like Hall or MacKinnon, but it doesn’t take much of a jump for Larkin to post numbers very similar to Panarin and Barkov, but with more penalty minutes. Fingers crossed that the Red Wings power play improves, because if it does, Larkin has a great chance to hit 75+ points while being a positive contributor in all categories.