Hindsight can hurt.
During the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Ken Holland traded back on the Red Wings’ first-round pick, moving Pavel Datsyuk’s contract while securing an additional second-round pick in the process. With the extra picks, he drafted Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek and used the extra cap space to sign Frans Nielsen. This move gave the Arizona Coyotes the chance to draft Jakob Chychrun, who was regarded as one of the better defensemen of the draft.
Five years have passed since the draft. In that time, Filip Hronek has shown great potential as a defenseman, Cholowski has split his season with the Griffins and the Wings, and Nielsen is, well, Nielsen. Jakob Chychrun, on the other hand, anchors the Coyotes’ top defensive pairing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He led NHL defensemen this year in goals and scored 41 points in just 56 games. If that isn’t bad enough, Chychrun’s advanced stats paint a much clearer picture.
The table below compares Jakob Chychrun and Dennis Cholowski, analyzing offensive output, possession metrics, and overall value to the team.
Like I said, hindsight hurts.
In just a few months, the Seattle Kraken will host their expansion draft. They’re allowed to protect three defensemen. Filip Hronek and Troy Stecher will almost certainly be two of the three picks. The leftover spot will, inevitably, go to either Gustav Lindström or Dennis Cholowski. Between the two of them, Cholowski has more NHL experience, with 104 games under his belt. Lindström, on the other hand, has seemed more competent with puck handling, passing, and skating in just 29 games with the organization. A difficult decision will need to be made when the expansion draft comes to town. The NHL futures of both of these young defensemen in Detroit hang in the balance.
With that being said, is it too late for Dennis Cholowski? What’s to be done about the former first-rounder and his future with the organization?
Pro-Cholowski: It’s Not Too Late!
The biggest question with Cholowski revolves around his deployment. On average, Cholowski plays around 15;54 minutes a night. That’s nearly two minutes fewer than the average ice time of a bottom-pairing NHL defenseman. It’s hard to tell if he’s being deployed effectively in such a sheltered role. Between Cholowski and Lindström, Cholowski has more NHL experience. While his first season was less-than-stellar, he’s two seasons removed from his rookie year. He did get to spend a bit of time in the NHL in 2019-20, but the abysmal season only served to exacerbate the mistakes he made on the ice.
The video above gives viewers a little glimpse of Cholowski’s offensive potential. The way he effortlessly navigates between the two zones and rips a shot into the Stars’ net is scratching the surface of his potential. He’s an offensive-minded player and needs to be deployed as such.
Between the Griffins and the Wings, Cholowski played a grand total of 29 games — 16 in Detroit and 13 in Grand Rapids. It’s hard to give Cholowski a chance to succeed when he’s barely able to show what he’s learned. Next season, Marc Staal, Alex Biega, and Christian Djoos will be coming off the books. Djoos has already signed a contract in Switzerland, leaving a spot open for another defenseman. The 2021-22 season appears to be Cholowski’s last chance for success. Will he run with it, or has the bell already tolled on the Canadian defenseman?
Counterpoint: It’s Too Late
One thing needs to be made abundantly clear about Cholowski: he’s 23 and has barely played 100 NHL games. The fact that Christian Djoos played nearly three times as many games as Cholowski this season is a massive red flag. The Red Wings were more prepared to trust a waiver claim than they were their 2016 first-rounder. For a defenseman like Cholowski looking to secure a full-time future with Detroit, that is not a promising sign.
In the video above, you can see Cholowski tail Jason Dickinson, pinching too early on the play and resulting in a Stars goal. While it might seem like a small thing, this play is just a microcosm of Cholowski’s frequent lapses on the ice.
In 16 games with the Red Wings, Cholowski did very little to make a case for himself. For a player projected to have offensive upside, he was only able to secure three points — a goal and two assists. While he did play on the second-worst offense in the league, he did very little to stand out in his limited showing. It doesn’t help that his defensive hiccups have made protecting him a much harder justification. 5v5 GF% is a great way to analyze offensive output. The higher the percentage, the more these players were on the ice during goals for their team. Cholowski’s 5v5GF% is 37.53. His main competitor, Lindström, edges him out at 38.51%. In fewer games, Lindström has shown more offensive upside while undergoing the same level of pressure.
Conclusion: Cholowski or Lindström?
At the end of the day, Steve Yzerman will need to choose between one of Cholowski or Lindström. While the Red Wings slowly make their way through their rebuild, they’ll need to decide what’s more important: NHL experience, or upside? As of right now, Lindström appears to be the higher-potential player. In nearly a third of the games Cholowski has played, Lindström has shown more confidence, smarter passing, and better puck control. Additionally, he’s a full year younger than Cholowski. This season, he matched Cholowski’s point total in three fewer games. His advanced stats paint a much more vivid picture:
To put words to the graph, the data above showcases that Lindström is significantly less a liability on the defensive end than Cholowski. While his possession metrics are a tad worse, Lindström has only played 29 NHL games vs. Cholowski’s 104. It’s entirely possible that, as Lindström continues to play at the NHL level, he’ll improve on his possession metrics and evolve as a player.
With that being said, it’s important to note that Dennis Cholowski isn’t necessarily a bad defenseman. He’s shown capable bottom-pairing play and even has an offensive edge to his game. But, when compared to Lindström, another prospect fighting for a full-time role, he falls short of expectations.
Even if Cholowski is left unprotected, there’s still a chance he remains in Detroit’s organization. Seattle may opt for a forward, choosing one of either Givani Smith or Evgeny Svechnikov. Ideally, this selection would help to reset expectations on Cholowski. If he remains on Detroit’s roster after the expansion draft, he will have a newfound opportunity to develop at his own pace.
Ultimately, the decision will come down to future potential and how Yzerman sees the lineup shaping out. As far as this writer is concerned, the writing appears to be on the wall for Dennis and Detroit.