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Red Wings Top Prospects Producing in WHL

Detroit’s last two first-round picks are enjoying successful seasons in 2017-18 while captaining their respective clubs

NHL: Preseason-Detroit Red Wings at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Red Wings’ talent/prospect pool in Grand Rapids may currently be a little shallow at the moment in regards to future elite NHL talent but help may not be too far away. The Wings’ most recent duo of first-round draft selections, Dennis Cholowski and Michael Rasmussen, are currently enjoying fruitful 2017-18 seasons in the Western Hockey League.

The drafting of both Cholowski (20th overall in 2016) and Rasmussen (ninth overall in 2017) ignited some passionate debates among Hockeytown’s faithful over the last two off-seasons, not so much in doubting each player’s ability but rather in Detroit’s passing on more highly-touted names that were still available at the time.

NHL: NHL Draft David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

However, the pair has gone on to silence or at least change the once cynical views previously held by many of their early detractors, myself included. Rasmussen, whose selection drew much more criticism than Cholowski’s, had an extremely impressive preseason performance with the club this year and may have a legitimate chance to make the team in 2018-19 with another strong exhibition showing next September.

As the Wings continue to attempt the on-the-fly re-build in hopes of once again earning a shot at postseason contention, let’s take a deeper look into how two of the team’s top prospects are continuing to develop.

Cholowski Holding the Line

Just one week ago the Prince George Cougars announced Cholowski as the 23rd team captain in franchise history, a telling sign of the qualities the young defenceman brings to the table. In 23 regular-season games played with the Cougars, he’s registered 21 total points (seven goals and 14 assists), good enough for second best on the team and more than doubling the next closest defender’s point total of eight.

Obviously being named team captain is an honor at any level of competition but it’s even a little more impressive in this case considering it’s Cholowski’s first season in the WHL after spending much of last season playing college hockey at St. Cloud State. Being entrusted with the responsibilities of a leader at such a young age could eventually pay dividends for Detroit’s blue line further on down the road.

NHL: Preseason-Pittsburgh Penguins at Detroit Red Wings Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

When his team has had the man advantage in 2017-18, Cholowski has totaled two power-play goals and seven assists. His ability to contribute and generate chances on the power-play will serve him well as he continues to climb the ranks towards the NHL.

Coming in at just under a point-per-game (0.91) and ranking 13th out of all WHL blue-liners, there’s a lot to like about Cholowsky’s game. He has always been a project since being drafted by the Wings but continues making strides in the right direction both physically and statistically. While he may not be the elite top-pairing defender that all NHL teams covet, he also may turn into a very important piece of the Red Wings’ future.

Rasmussen Playing Big in Small Sample

Like Cholowski, the six-foot-six Rasmussen also serves as team captain to his Tri-City Americans though he has missed some time early on due to injury. Appearing in only 16 games so far this season he has still managed to register 19 points (nine goals, ten assists). Four of his nine goals and three of his ten assists have occurred while on the power-play.

As I mentioned earlier, the big power-forward had an impressive showing for Detroit during preseason play and was an absolute thrill to watch. It was pretty obvious the 18-year-old center was on a mission to prove his doubters wrong. During five exhibition games played for the Wings, he totaled four goals, three of which were PPG.

And according to Shawn Horcoff, director of player development, it’s not unusual for prospects to face some setbacks at the junior level after attending their first NHL camp:

“He’s been a little bit up and down,” Horcoff said. “Like any young player when they come back from their first NHL camp, there’s a little bit of a lull there. He got off to a bit of a tough start and he’ll be the first one to admit that, but he’s responded well lately.”

I’m not sure it’s fair to say a player who is currently averaging 1.19 points-per-game is in a lull but I understand Horcoff’s statement. Rasmussen’s mental-fortitude and commitment to the game of hockey were equally endearing pre-draft qualities to Ken Holland and company as was his physical prowess on the ice.

Expectations of first-round draft picks are understandably always high, especially when it comes to fans of teams, like the Red Wings, who have not had the experience of acquiring many over the last 25 years. However, both Cholowski and Rasmussen have already shown promise in their young careers and continue to do so.