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Old friends Eichel, Larkin ready for first matchup in the NHL

DETROIT – Dylan Larkin knows Jack Eichel as well as anyone in hockey. They played together in the U.S. National Team Development Program for two years. They roomed together at the world championships in the spring. They won a gold medal at the under-18 championships in 2014.

For the first time, the rookies will face off in the NHL when Detroit hosts Buffalo in Joe Louis Arena.

“It’ll be pretty cool to see him out there,” Larkin said Tuesday morning. “I for sure think we have to watch him. I think a lot of guys on our team will, after they see him skate the first time, respect his speed for the rest of the game.

“It doesn’t look like he’s skating fast, and then you’ll see him blow by a few defensemen. He can go wide and cut to the middle and create that lane to the net. He’s good at finishing. I think one thing I’ve noticed this year is his shot. He’s scored a lot of goals just beating goalies clean. It’s a deceptive shot, too, so I think we’ve got to eliminate his time and space.”

While Eichel has dominated the attention among first-year players, Larkin is quickly closing the gap. The 19-year-old leads the Red Wings with 10 goals and is second with 18 points.

“It’s been pretty crazy here,” Larkin said. “We’ve got great leadership and they’ve done a great job in keeping me grounded and just being able to play hockey. I know he’s had it since he was 16 years old. He’s had cameras like this all around him in every tournament we went to. For me, this is my first year having that.”

Larkin’s transition into the NHL has been eased by having veterans such as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk around.

“It’s obviously a good place to play for him,” Eichel said. “He’s in a comfortable environment playing here in Detroit where he’s from. They have a good team, so I know he’s enjoying himself.”

The Red Wings enter the game on a 4-0-3 run. The Sabres have won two straight, so the game is more than a rookie showcase.

“We’ve got a big game against Buffalo,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “I know lots of people want this to be Eichel versus Larkin, but it’s not. It’s the Detroit Red Wings versus the Buffalo Sabres, and I think that’s the most important thing.

“They’re two really good players. I think they’ve both had good starts to their NHL careers, but we think we’ve got lots of other really good players in the room that are going to have to be great. I’m sure they do as well.”

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