A freshman defender at Colgate University, Thomas Larkin is still quite raw as an NHL prospect. He defends well, though his gap control needs a lot of work, staying closer to his check in the neutral zone. But, he has the raw materials to play in the NHL — good size and skating, plus a good attitude. He was a fifth-round pick of Columbus in 2009.
Larkin is 6’5, 216 right now, down five pounds from the start of the season. The newly-turned 19-year-old says it’s still hard for him to keep weight on.
Larkin grew up in Italy, then played four years at Philips Exeter Academy, during which time he made the switch from forward to defense. He still carries the puck with the authority of a forward. In 16 games, Larkin has scored a goal and nine assists, making him the top-scoring defenseman on his team.
"He’s been great," Raiders assistant captain Brian Day (NYI) said. "You can’t even tell he’s a freshman, he looks like a senior out there. He’s obviously one of the bigger guys and he’s playing like a veteran. He’s definitely settled i, and is a big part of the team. He has one of the hardest shots on the team, that’s for sure."
If Larkin’s 6’5 stature isn’t enough to make him stand out, there’s also the moustache he’s sporting. Day said "He’s kind of goofy like that." The team grew them together, and "I guess he just fell in love with it and decided to keep it not as a joke anymore, he actually enjoys it. That’s his personal choice, we won’t judge him on it," Day deadpanned.
Hockey’s Future spoke to Larkin at the Shillelagh Tournament.
HF: How do you feel like your adjustment to college hockey is going?
TL: I think it’s going pretty well, it’s obviously a big step from playing prep school, with the speed and everything just happens a lot quicker.
HF: Have you been surprised by how many points you’ve produced?
TL: I don’t really try for that, I have really good teammates that help me out. I’m happy with the way it’s going.
HF: Have you been surprised by how much ice time you’re getting as a freshman?
TL: Yeah, to a certain extent. I kind of chose Colgate because I would get a really good opportunity to play as a freshman. I’m really excited about playing that much.
HF: Have you been with the same partner all year?
TL: Yeah, we switched it around a lot the first few games, but now I’m paired with Wade Poplawski, and it’s going really well.
HF: Is he more defensive than you are?
TL: No, he’s a very good offensive defenseman too. He’s very good with the puck and we both play a defense-first game and contribute to the attack too.
HF: Does he give you a lot of advice?
TL: Yeah, he’s been kind of mentoring me throughout the first part of the season and he’s helped me out a lot to adjust.
HF: What kind of things does he say?
TL: I kind of have a tendency to creep over to his side and he keeps me in check (laughs). He helps me out on breakouts, when to go. And he helps me out in practice a lot too.
HF: How much power-play time have you been getting?
TL: I’m getting a fair amount on the second power-play unit. So about half the power play unless the first unit scores. Our power play unit has been doing well the past few games.
HF: Growing up in Italy, were you able to follow the NHL much?
TL: No, actually I never really did follow the NHL until I came over to the States and the only real time I was exposed to it was in the lockout when a lot of NHLers came over to Europe and I got to see Joe Thornton and Martin St. Louis play in Switzerland. I got to see a lot of NHLers then, but before that I had no exposure to it.
HF: So then what motivated you when you were young?
TL: My dad’s from the States and I always wanted to play Division I hockey. My parents both valued academics a lot so I thought the best way was to come to the States and play at a university — you get the academic side and the hockey side too.
HF: So you didn’t have a team or a player that you were a fan of then.
TL: No, I really didn’t. It’s kind of odd. I just wanted to play at a Division I program and then once I got to the States I started following the NHL and college hockey and I grew to like some teams more than others.
HF: Did your dad play college hockey?
TL: No, my dad grew up in Boston until he was about 10 and played pond hockey. Then his family moved to Florida so he didn’t have much hockey down there.
HF: But he probably always wanted to, right?
TL: Yeah, he tells me all the time that his biggest regret is that there wasn’t much hockey in Florida because he really loves the sport.
HF: How did you know when it was time to move to North America — did you just crave more competition? Because you could have waited a couple more years.
TL: Yeah, I could have waited a couple years. I was really comfortable back home, I was getting a lot of ice time, was one of the better players on the team. I could have stayed there and been on easy street. But I just decided the competition wasn’t great, I was kind of outgrowing it. I was a big kid back then too (6’3), I thought the small sheets of American ice would help me more so I came over here.
HF: Do you plan to do the same summer workouts as last year?
TL: We have a great strength trainer at Colgate and I’ll probably follow what he wants me to do, which will be different from what I did last year.
HF: What did you do last summer?
TL: I spend a lot of the summer in the States, one of my best friends (and former Exeter defensive partner) Jeff Reppucci lives in Massachussetts. I just stayed at his house for a while. I did various camps like with the Bruins defensive coach Doug Houda. I got invited to Columbus’ camp. And then I trained with the Italian national team. I was in Italy for about a month and a half this summer, up and down from where the national team trains.
HF: Are they the only ones who have ice in the summer?
TL: Yeah, there’s no ice in Italy except for this one place. The Italian national team puts on a camp for kids under 20 and invited me for a two-week camp. I’ve been doing that for about four years. Now that I’m overage, I’m probably going to try to go back and work there, maybe help out the Buffalo Sabres goalie coach Jim Corsi, he works with the goalies for the Italian national team.
HF: So you’d be the shooter.
TL: Yeah, exactly.
HF: Tell me about this camp with Houda.
TL: It’s a defensive clinic, which is great for me because I moved to defense my junior year in high school. So he was really teaching me the nuances of defense, which was great.
HF: How did your first semester go academically, was it what you expected?
TL: Yeah, it went really well and Exeter prepared me very well to transition to college. I kind of knew how to handle academics and playing hockey at the same time. It actually went really well.
HF: Were there any classes you took that you really liked, which might help you decide what to study?
TL: My intro to econ class was really interesting. I kind of had an idea that I wanted to go that way in terms of a major. This class reinforced that idea. But I still have time to decide, but I’m definitely really interested in economics.
HF: This is a great time to be studying that.
TL: Yeah, exactly. There’s so much interesting stuff going on with the economy right now that class is really interesting.
HF: What was the big takeaway from your class about the signs we missed in the economy?
TL: I learned that there was a lot of unsecured debt going out with all the sub-prime mortgages. If someone had really looked at the structure of lending in America in the past 20 years, that should have raised some eyebrows. I never really studied economics until this term, and the class just presented me with all the facts of how much Americans took out in loans over the past 20-30 years — it’s incredible.