Going into the 2016 NHL Draft, the Red Wings were bound to addressing one thing: Building a defensive corps for the future. Despite having the ability to draft Jakob Chychrun at 16th overall, the team elected to trade Pavel Datsyuk’s contract to the Arizona Coyotes for 20th overall, along with another draft pick. With the 20th pick, the club certainly went a bit off the chart, but they drafted a kid who they saw something in, that kid, was Dennis Cholowski of the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs.
Born: February 15, 1998
Weight: 176 lbs
Cholowski was a very underrated prospect in the 2016 Draft class, and I say that because he started far down the ranks, but later in the year he increased his stock almost tenfold with his impressive performance later in the regular season, and into the playoffs. Cholowski ended his 2016 season in the top-five for most-scoring defensemen in the BCHL, and came out tops in the playoffs for point production among all blueliners. When the pick was made, there was a lot of question as to what the team saw in Cholowski, and what kind of player he is. I spoke with the Red Wings’ Director of Amateur Scouting Tyler Wright about Cholowski after the first round at the Draft:
“Obviously we kind of put a necessity on defense, in this draft we thought there were some pretty good defensemen. We think that [Cholowski] is just kinda hitting the tip of the iceberg, he’s a young kid that’s still growing, he could be one of the best-skating defensemen in the draft, so we’re really intrigued by size, skating ability, puck-moving ability, and we think he still has a lot of room to grow. So down the road here, we’re hoping he’s going to fit into that top-four mold. He’s a beautiful, effortless skater. You can’t have enough smart, good puck-moving defensemen in your hockey club.”
Cholowski is certainly a project-type defenseman, who will see a few years of collegiate development before jumping to the next level. Dennis is committed to St. Cloud State University, a school in the NCHC division, one that has some of the top programs in the country such as 2016 National Champions North Dakota, and Denver. Cholowski will have an opportunity to develop against some of the NCAA’s best programs in North Dakota, not to mention another top BCHL prospect in Dante Fabbro, who is committed to UND.
The way I look at Cholowski is that he is as raw of a talent as they come. He’s underdeveloped physically, but that will fill out over time. He has marvelous skating ability whether it’s north-south, or laterally. He’s an adept at joining the rush and using his vision as a QB. On the other hand, Cholowski is also praised for his ability to break plays up with his stick, and provide subtle defensive moves that can help his team’s transition game.
Scott Wheeler of Future Considerations had a great report on Cholowski, here’s some of what he had to say:
He has everything that is very difficult to teach—anticipation, instincts and a long, athletic stride with great edges. On the other hand, everything that he lacks — such as strength and defensive positioning — can be taught. He has great upside as an all-situations puck-mover with the smarts to create offense.
NHL POTENTIAL: Top-four two-way defenseman
The issue with Cholowski, and to be clear, this has nothing to do with him as a player, is that I feel fans might always compare him to Chychrun seeing that is who the Red Wings passed on to move Datsyuk’s contract. If we can set that aside, Cholowski is a great prospect who will need some time to develop. He’s a low-risk, high-reward type of player. The Red Wings have an ugly logjam with their defense right now, so players who can spend time developing in the NCAA could highly benefit them in the long run.
As Wheeler noted in his report above, Cholowski has all of the stuff you can’t teach. Anything missing can be developed with time and repetition. He’s not a big-time impact player right now, but this 18-year-old rearguard could certainly evolve into an all-situations defender with elite skating abilities.