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Red Wings '16 top pick Dennis Cholowski stronger, eager to assert self

By Helene St. James , Detroit Free Press, 07/08/17, 2:00PM CDT

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TRAVERSE CITY -- The newest veteran defenseman on the Detroit Red Wings may serve as a learning tool for one of their youngest prospects. 

The Wings have high hopes for Dennis Cholowski, their first-round pick from 2016 who turned pro this past spring after one season at St. Cloud State. 

Cholowski is a gifted skater and smart with the puck – which is where Trevor Daley, whom the Wings signed July 1, comes into the picture. 

“I think actually watching a guy like Trevor Daley, you can learn a lot from a guy like that,” director of player development Shawn Horcoff said Friday after the first day of development camp. “A guy that can go back and just break the puck out. It is such a valuable tool to have a defenseman that can go back, and with pure speed, turn the corner and a couple cross-overs, and he's beaten everyone and with one nice pass, we are on instant offense. I think Dennis has that ability. Those guys are tough to find. We are going to try to make him one of those guys.”

Cholowski appeared, at times,to take a step back last season, scoring one goal among 12 points with a minus-9 rating in 36 games. But he has taken a big step forward – at least physically – since turning pro in the spring. 

“He has made an overall commitment, to conditioning – not just conditioning but getting stronger, bigger,” Horcoff said. “He knows that in order to play at the next level, he needs to get physically stronger and he’s already done that. I think he is up 10 pounds since I had him in GR (Grand Rapids) at the start of their run, so in about three months, he has put on some good strength.

“He is a dedicated guy. He can't do enough. He is always asking, 'what can I do, what can I do?' That’s my favorite type of player and person. So I expect him to have a good year this year.”

Dennis Cholowski, right, celebrates with Detroit Red

Dennis Cholowski, right, celebrates with Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland after being selected 20th overall during the NHL draft on June 24, 2016, in Buffalo, New York. (Photo: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images)

The Wings drafted Cholowski 20th overall, swapping the 16th pick with Arizona in order to unload Pavel Datsyuk’s contract. Jakob Chychrun, whom the Coyotes selected, made the NHL roster as a rookie, with 20 points and a minus-14 rating in 68 games. 

Cholowski barely has gotten his feet wet at the pro level, playing one game with the Grand Rapids Griffins. He learned something, though, from watching their run to the Calder Cup championship. 

“The hockey is much faster, a lot harder, too,” Cholowski said. “Guys really go at each other.”

It further instilled in Cholowski what he must do to succeed as a pro. “I think being more assertive on the ice, imposing my will more, skating with the puck more, creating more offense – things like that,” he said. 

The Wings would like to see Cholowski be assertive with his shot.

“In order to play on the power play in the NHL you have got to be a threat to shoot it,” Horcoff said. “Dennis is going through the process of that. And I think it is better just in the short little time that I have seen him.”