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Team North America

Dylan Larkin makes his mark for Team North America

Forward part of all-American line with Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Without the kind of attention received by the two most recent No. 1 picks of the NHL Draft, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, Team North America forward Dylan Larkin has quietly climbed the depth chart.

Larkin, who scored 23 goals and 45 points for the Detroit Red Wings as a rookie last season, is on a line with center Jack Eichel and left wing Johnny Gaudreau for Team North America, which plays its first World Cup of Hockey 2016 game against Team Finland at Air Canada Centre on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports).

It's quite a promotion, given that the 20-year-old from Waterford, Michigan, was the odd man out when Team North America began its pretournament schedule.

"It started out personally a little rough, not playing in the first game and having to work my way up," Larkin said after practice Saturday at Ricoh Coliseum. "I've been trying to do that. I wanted to play, came here to play, so that was a little interesting at first, but now that I feel I'm playing in the first game, I just have to prove myself again and proving myself all tournament."

Larkin said he had some help during those doubting first days.

Video: EUR@NAT: Larkin bangs in Trochek's rebound

"I really talked with some of the guys for some support, talked to [Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill] a little," Larkin said. "What I realized was, I shouldn't do too much. Whenever I try to do too much, take guys on 1-on-1, that's when I turn over pucks and get into trouble. So I tried to keep it simple and play my game and play a fast game and shoot the puck a ton.

"I feel like hopefully playing with these two guys I'm able to do all that from them and we can create offense as a line."

Larkin scored twice in a 7-4 win against Team Europe in the second pretournament game.

"[It's] speed, which we thought we would see," Team North America coach Todd McLellan said Saturday. "And really, there was no rhyme or reason not to play Dylan in the first game. We just wanted to look at some different combinations. It wasn't that he had a poor night or anything like that. We had to find a starting point, and when put him back in, he's had good games since then.

"He complements a couple of our players well and he's in the lineup. Each night he's gotten better and seems to have an impact on the outcome of the game."

Larkin, the No. 15 pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, grinned when asked about his linemates on the team of 23 and younger players from the United States and Canada.

"It's exciting, a heck of a line," he said of the three Americans. "They're good players who can make plays, and I'm just going to try to get open and use my speed to create space for Johnny and Jack, so that's been good."

Larkin said Gaudreau has surprised him a little during the preparations for the tournament.

"Every hockey fan knows about his size (5-foot-9, 157 pounds)," Larkin said. "What surprises me is how he's on the puck all the time and you can't get him off the puck. He's so crafty, shifty and he's got some great hockey sense. I've played with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg (with Detroit) and his hockey sense is right there with them."

Larkin said Team North America's progress has been consistent and encouraging.

"Todd has experience with a tournament like this, being at the World Championship," Larkin said. "And similar to that, we've all be involved in positions like this where there's a lot of information at the beginning and the more you get in games, the more you get comfortable with the system. But he's done a good job just preaching how we should play and play to our strengths and be the players that got us here.

"It's been just about the right about of teaching, information, video and meetings. Our identity is our speed, the way we play as a team. When we're rolling, when we're transitioning, when we're backchecking and stripping pucks and going the other way, it's a team that has a lot of puck possession."

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