Rookie Cholowski’s calm and hockey IQ belie his age
Dennis Cholowski celebrates his first goal in the Wings’ season opener.
Due to their rebuilding process and injuries, the Red Wings began the season with four rookie defensemen playing regular shifts.
Eleven games into the season, only one – Dennis Cholowski – remains a regular in the lineup. Filip Hronek and Libor Sulak have both been sent down to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League, and Joe Hicketts, who has become a regular healthy scratch, will likely be sent down to Grand Rapids when Danny DeKeyser returns from injury.
Not only is Cholowski still in the lineup, but he’s also playing on the top defensive pair with Mike Green.
Despite being only 20 years old, Cholowski – Detroit’s first-round draft pick in 2016 (20th overall) – has opened eyes with his calmness under duress and his passing ability.
“Even though he’s young, he’s been very poised with the puck,” Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard told the Detroit Free Press. “He’s been making great first passes, and even under pressure, he is not panicking.”
Cholowski has not been discouraged by his inevitable rookie miscues.
“You can’t be afraid of making a mistake or nothing is going to happen – you’re just going to play conservative and that’s not going to help anybody,” he said. “You have to be able to try to make those plays in previous years, and sometimes they’re not going to work but you have to deal with that.”
Thomas Vanek really appreciates that attitude.
“Especially as a young guy, when you make a mistake, you almost don’t want the puck. He’s the opposite – he wants it back,” Vanek said. “That’s a great mindset. He’s a quiet kid, but I think he’s a very confident kid in himself.”
Cholowski has two goals and four assists for six points, is minus-4 and averaging 21:53 of ice time – which leads all rookies – in nine games (he missed two contests due to an upper-body injury).
The native of Langley, British Columbia, has always been able to quickly process what’s happening on the ice and respond immediately.
“Being able to make quick decisions is a big part of my game,” Cholowski said. “It’s a part I try to utilize as much as I can, just being able to visualize the ice and find guys everywhere and move the puck quick.”
Cholowski, 6 feet and 195 pounds, introduced himself to the NHL – after only an AHL playoff game of professional experience – with a goal in his league debut, the season-opening 3-2 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Little Caesars Arena on Oct. 4. And he’s continued to impress.
“The one thing he has already is the hockey IQ and the patience,” Vanek said. “I think each and every game he is going to grow and become a really good defenseman in this league.”
Cholowski even matched the NHL start of a former Red Wings defenseman who was also known for his calm on-ice demeanor.
He joined Nicklas Lidstrom as the only defensemen in Red Wings history with five points in the first six games of their careers.
Now, nobody is suggesting that Cholowski will come close to equaling the accomplishments of the Hockey Hall of Famer. But it’s certainly not a bad thing to be in the same company with one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history, one whose nickname was “The Perfect Human.”