The Red Wings took Dennis Cholowski 20th overall in the 2016 draft. At the time, the pick was called a reach and a project, but I loved it; it was exactly the high reward type of pick the Wings ought to have taken at the time, and it looks like it may work out really, really well for the Red Wings. Dennis Cholowski comes in at #8 on WiiM’s Tom 25 Under 25 reader poll for all the right reasons.
C-Lo has a long shadow to work his way out of; he was picked as a result of the Wings trading back with Arizona in 2016 in return for offloading the now-retired Datsyuk’s contract. The Coyotes ended up drafting the highly touted Jakob Chychyrun while Detroit got the mysterious (read: off-board) Cholowski. He silenced some critics last year when he roared into training camp and stole a spot that looked reserved for Filip Hronek or Joe Hicketts. And while he was eventually sent down to Grand Rapids in favor of Hronek, Cholowki showed that he isn’t ready to be written off as a disappointment simply because he isn’t Chychyrun.
Birth: February 15, 1998, Langely, BC
Height and Weight: 6’1”, 195 lbs.
2018-19 Team: Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins
2019-20 Team: Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins (maybe?)
Have you seen his outlet passes? When I watched those outlet passes early on last season I could hardly believe what I was seeing; here was a defenseman who could get the team going quickly up ice, which is something the Wings had sorely lacked for several seasons. This skill with the outlet pass implies a certain vision Cholowski possesses that is really encouraging. This is, in part, why he could produce offense last year, because his vision worked for him in the offensive zone as well. He can read the game really well, maybe better than Hronek can, which is part of what makes their “rivalry” so interesting to watch.
The other skill in Cholowski’s toolbox that really stands out is his mobility. He’s not lightning fast or anything, but he’s agile on his skates and his lanky frame actually helps him weave through the zone, which opens up the ice for his forwards.
And while we’re on his size, he’s got pretty good reach, too. He can scoop up loose pucks and dump-ins solidly, again helping the Wings in transition. I think it is unlikely he is ever going to be some sort of snarling bruiser of a defenseman in the way, say, Kyle Quincey was, but his lankiness and decision-making has long been a hallmark of his game. If he can round out his game and be trusted with a lot of defensive-zone starts, he will still play best with someone who can really clear out the crease so that Cholowski can be left to gather up loose pucks and get Detroit’s fast forwards moving up ice.
Dennis Cholowski’s weaknesses have been pored over by fans at length in a manner more honest than most. He doesn’t get lambasted, but he isn’t treated as some golden boy anymore (we have Hronek for that.) Regardless, the truth of the matter is that Cholowski’s transition game needs some work, specifically his transition from offense to defense. Too many mistakes were made last season because he was a little aggressive and suddenly the Wings were caught with only Kronwall back; it’s a game you definitely can’t play with some of the veteran blueliners on the Wings.
This is a decision-making issue, but it’s also a systems issue, which is sort of unsurprising when you consider that he didn’t spend any time in Grand Rapids between the minors and the NHL. This is the sort of thing that you learn when you are in an organization that has a consistent ethos throughout itself. In a way, this weakness illuminates how impressive Cholowski actually was in the early part of the season.
The other area C-Lo needs to work on probably requires him to just spend more time in the NHL, doing his reps until he gets it right; Cholowski needs to improve on his ability to take away space from opposing forwards in one-on-one matchups. Playing in the AHL can help a player improve this skill, but after a certain point he needs to practice on NHL players to really tune this skill.
I’ll be honest, I have a soft spot for Dennis Cholowski. I think he is exactly the sort of guy Blashill wants on Detroit’s blue line, which is exciting and fun. Detroit’s defense last season was fun to watch for the first time since Kronwall’s heavy scoring years early in the decade. The kid isn’t really favored to make the Red Wings out of camp this year, and is instead expected to start the season in Grand Rapids as a first call-up option. And the addition of Oliwer Kaski definitely makes it even tough for Cholowski to make the opening night roster. Then again, not many really thought he was going to make the Red Wings out of camp last year until he started tearing it up in the preseason. I think the best approach is to not count anything out for this kid.