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By the Numbers Prospects: Dennis Cholowski

Young defenseman's performance in last year's prospect tournament helped him win Wings roster spot

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

By the Numbers will highlight the on-ice accomplishments in the 2017-18 season for the Detroit Red Wings' prospects. Twice a week during the offseason, By the Numbers will profile a different player in the system, focusing on his statistical highs. This week we focus on defenseman Dennis Cholowski.

Before last season started, it was a widely held belief that defenseman Dennis Cholowski would need a year of seasoning in the American Hockey League before he was ready to compete for a spot on the Detroit Red Wings.

Cholowski had just finished a very successful season split between the WHL's Prince George Cougars and the WHL's Portland Winterhawks.

He opted to spend the summer in Detroit, training with some other prospects and working toward his goal of making the Wings roster out of training camp.

People believed that Filip Hronek, who had a fantastic rookie season in the AHL under his belt, was the frontrunner to earn that spot.

But Cholowski had an advantage that Hronek did not, which was getting to play in the prospect tournament before training camp started.

Cholowski ended up being the top defenseman on Detroit's team, finishing tied for third among all tournament players with six points.

That success led to a high level of confidence for Cholowski and he carried it into training camp and the preseason.

Because of illness and injuries to the Wings veteran defensemen, both Cholowski and Hronek made the Opening Night roster, along with Libor Sulak and Joe Hicketts. But Cholowski would have made it regardless.

It is never easy to be a rookie in the NHL, especially as a defenseman, as there are so many gifted offensive players who can turn a simple mistake into a quick scoring opportunity.

Cholowski has always had a calm demeanor, which can be both a gift and a curse.

It means he is rarely frazzled on the ice but sometimes does not show enough urgency in critical moments.

That is something that can be learned through experience, which is why the Wings decided it would be best for Cholowski to spend some time making some of those mistakes at the American Hockey League level with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Cholowski finished the season there and is spending another summer in metro Detroit, hoping to earn a spot with the Wings once again.

1 -- Cholowski hit two milestones in one night, playing in his first NHL game and scoring his first goal on Opening Night, Oct. 4 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Dylan Larkin spotted Cholowski streaking into the slot at 7:46 of the second period, a goal that tied the game at 1 and marked the first Wings goal of the season. Gustav Nyquist had the second assist.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Cholo with his 1st career NHL tally! #LGRW

2 -- In his second career game on Oct. 7 at Los Angeles, Cholowski had two assists. He had the second assist on Anthony Mantha's power-play goal at 8:45 of the second period and the second assist on Larkin's goal at 16:00 of the third.

52 -- Cholowski played 52 games, which ranked third among the Wings' rookies. Michael Rasmussen led the first-year players with 62 games and Christoffer Ehn was second with 60.

7 -- Among Detroit's defenseman, Cholowski was the overall goal leader with seven. Mike Green, Filip Hronek and Danny DeKeyser were tied for second with five goals apiece.

4 - Four of Cholowski's seven goals came with the man-advantage. That tied him for fourth among rookies in that category with teammate Michael Rasmussen, Arizona's Conor Garland and Ottawa's Maxime Lajoie and Brady Tkachuk.

16 -- In his 52 NHL games, Cholowski had a total of 16 points, which ranked fifth among Wings defensemen. Niklas Kronwall led with 27 points, Green was second with 26, Hronek was third with 23 and DeKeyser was fourth with 20.

9 -- Of Cholowski's 16 points, nine came on the power play. He led Detroit's blueliners in power-play points. Kronwall was second with eight. Larkin led the overall team with 15.

50 -- Cholowski ranked eighth on the team in blocked shots with 50. Luke Glendening led the way with 102.

-20 - Known for his offensive ability, Cholowski was challenged defensively at the NHL level as he racked up a team-high minus-20. Tyler Bertuzzi led the Wings in plus-minus at plus-11.

25 -- On Feb. 14, the Wings sent Cholowski to the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins and he played 25 games with them.

12 -- In those 25 games, Cholowski had 12 assists. He also had 12 penalty minutes with the Griffins.

6 -- Cholowski also played in six playoff games for the Griffins and he had two assists in those games.

Quotable: "I think it was great. For Dennis, he just got off to an unbelievable start for us. He's a great example for young players that come in and just earn a job out of camp and that's what we want to have. We want to have good competition. We've drafted a lot of players over the past few years, there's going to be a lot of competition in camp and we need players to know that they can come in in shape and they can come in and play well, they can earn a spot. That was exactly what Dennis did last year. I think at the end of the year, he got sent down, everyone always points to that minus-20, but I think a lot of it had to do with it's not easy your first year in the league, especially as a defenseman. It's very true that the defensemen usually take a lot longer to mature, and I think with Dennis, he just needed some time. We thought that sending him down to Grand Rapids and getting him into more defensive situations to help him, to help expedite that learning curve on the defensive side was what he needed at that time. At the same time, Filip Hronek was playing very well down there and he deserved a chance up to show what he could do. Overall though, if you look back at Dennis' season as a whole, I think it was very successful.

"I think with a young offensive defenseman, there's always that fine line between trying to make plays and just keeping it simple. I think at times, Dennis, he's such a gifted passer that it's never a bad play to snap a tape-to-tape pass and break out of the zone. There's a lot of defensemen that play a long time in the league just having the ability to just do that. I think it took some time for him to figure it out, but I also think on the defensive side of the game, not so much the thinking but I don't think through his young career growing up, he was ever in a situation where he really had to defend. He was always relied upon to produce offense. So now all of a sudden, he leaves college and two years later, he's in the NHL where you've got to defend the best players in the world every shift every single night and he gets exposed a little bit. But that's the same thing that most young players go through. It's the best league in the world for a reason. It's not easy to play against the best players every night and I thought he did a good job of it. He's learning as he goes here how to defend in the National Hockey League and we focused a lot on that in the offseason. I think you're going to see a better defender in him this year." -- Shawn Horcoff, Red Wings director of player development/assistant director of player personnel

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