Report: Dennis Cholowski didn’t try hard enough

The 22 year old first-rounder is struggling to find his way in the NHL.

Ordinarily, a member of the Detroit press writing about a prospect’s development would be worthy of a dip into Quick Hits, and to be fair, Helene St. James’ post ‘Dennis Cholowski must step up in this Detroit Red Wings rebuild, and soon’ is no different from the perspective of what the article brings.

Cholowski had good starts to the last two seasons, but his inability to correctly weigh reward versus risk when making decisions with the puck has led to being sent to the Grand Rapids Griffins. He recorded seven goals and 16 assists, and a minus-20 rating, as a rookie, and had two goals and six assists, and a minus-26 rating, when he was assigned to the Griffins in December. His demotion this season was especially disappointing because offensive defenseman Mike Green’s health struggles created an opening for Cholowski to show he belonged. Instead, Cholowski did the opposite.

The reason for the report isn’t in the article itself, but in the author’s promotion:

Feel free to tell me I’m brewing a tempest in a teapot here because there’s a real good chance that what I’m reading as some truly damning criticism of a prospect is as simple as a semantics issue caused by paraphrasing.

Cholowski not trying hard enough to stay in the lineup, if a truly accurate statement, does more than disappoint me. This rings severe alarm bells and calls for a whole bunch of mitigating context for me to not want the losses cut immediately.

The good (and bad) news is that I don’t know how accurate that statement is to my understanding because there’s not a lot more information about such a charge. I did mention it’s a possible paraphrasing issue and here’s why:

“I think it’s fair to say that the area he needs to focus on is his defensive play – the physicality, just the overall intensity it takes to defend in the NHL,” Wings director of player personnel Shawn Horcoff said. “I think he is a young player that has survived on offense his whole life, and now when he is playing, he gets exposed a little bit on that side of the rink.

“Having said that, we have made it abundantly clear to him, and he’s aware of it and he’s working on it. And down in Grand Rapids, we had seen some growth in that area from him. So he’s working on it and he’s getting better.”

The quote from Horcoff is the only attributed quote I’ve seen on the topic and, taken at only its face value seems a perfectly reasonable thing for a director of player personnel to say about a kid who has obviously struggled to earn his spot. It’s also not a terrible stretch to say that all Helene meant in the comment above about him not “working harder” is a paraphrase of Horcoff’s “overall intensity” statement.

While there are a lot of qualitative phrases that get used interchangeably, I’m concerned here, because the gap between “didn’t try hard enough” and “needs to focus on... overall intensity” is too wide here.

If a 22-year old former first-rounder didn’t try hard enough to play at the NHL level, then I desperately need context to explain what’s going on with him.  I mean, I also recognize that personal stuff that might mitigate such a damning criticism isn’t my business and making it public could be worse than keeping it secret, but that invites the question of why somebody would share that it’s a problem of him not trying hard enough in the first place rather than saying he had “unfortunate distractions” or something else of that nature?

If I’m working solely on gut, which I’m often forced to do, I do see in Helene’s article itself the hint of the issues; the idea that he takes too many risks but lacks swagger is particularly interesting. I hate attributing a bunch of mistakes to lack of effort, because I can’t imagine that even Ken Holland would have used a first-round pick on a guy whose actual DRIVE they would need to jump-start.  If a guy doesn’t try hard enough, then it’s just as damning to the organization developing him as it is on the kid himself. At least from Cholowski’s draft position.

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, requests for clarification from the author remain outstanding. I also have not reached Cholowski himself for his side of the story.