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Why Dennis Cholowski is drawing comparisons to Zack Werenski. Filmed Oct. 20, 2018 in Sunrise, Fla. Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press

He stands out for how quiet he is. How smart he is. 

Less than 10 games into his NHL career, Dennis Cholowski has emerged as a promising rebuilding block for the Detroit Red Wings. He is playing big minutes, he likes having the puck, and isn’t fazed by mistakes. He logged a goal, an assist, played 20 minutes, 23 seconds and registered a team-high five shots on net to help the Wings enter a three-game home stand on a winning note.

“He’s off to a great start and it’s awesome,” Dylan Larkin said after Saturday’s 4-3 overtime final at Florida. “He looks beyond his age and he’s poised back there. Yeah, he makes a couple mistakes but everyone does. He never gets rattled. He’s a very quiet guy. He’s got a great shot.”

Cholowski’s smooth skating and brainy play were key factors in the Wings drafting him at 20th overall in 2016. In the past two seasons he has grow stronger and more assertive while playing junior hockey, and he’s been able to carry that over to the NHL level. 

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“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. 

“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. 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.”

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Had the Wings not started the season without veteran defensemen Mike Green, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, Cholowski would not have been thrown into a prominent role as a rookie. But he was, and responded with a goal in his first game. In his second, he contributed two assists. He leads all Wings defensemen with five points, and is tied for second in points overall on the team.  His 21:48 minutes of average ice time leads team defensemen. 

That he wants the puck is appreciated by the veterans.

“The one thing he has already is the hockey IQ and the patience,” Thomas Vanek said. “I think each and every game he is going to grow and become a really good defenseman in this league. 

“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. That’s a great mindset. He’s a quiet kid but I think he’s a very confident kid in himself.”

Larkin compared Cholowski to Columbus’ Zach Werenski, a 2017 Calder Cup finalist and one of the best young defensemen in the NHL. 

“His head is always up and he’s always there to make passes and get it in the forwards’ hands,” Larkin said of Cholowski. “He reminds me a lot of Zach Werenski in that sense, where their posture with the puck is almost if you’re forechecking him, you don’t know what he is going to do because he’s got his head up and his feet are moving. It’s awesome having him back there.”

The word poised comes up when teammates are asked about Cholowski. Gustav Nyquist noted he “seems to be calm out there,” especially for a guy who is only 20. 

“Even though he’s young he’s been very poised with the puck,” Jimmy Howard said. “He’s been making great first passes, and even under pressure, he is not panicking.”

Cholowski’s demeanor rarely seems to change — quiet guy, pays attention, works hard —and that plays a role in why he’s succeeded in standing out on a team that lost its first seven games of the season.

“That’s one of his plusses,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s just a real even keeled person. It probably hurt him at times in perception throughout his career where maybe people wanted more jam and more demonstrative emotion, and he just doesn’t have that. We’ve had some real good ones here in Detroit that are similar type personalities. That allows him to play in those pressurized moments. It’s a real bright spot for the organization.”

Contact Helene St. James: hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

 

 

https://www.freep.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2018/10/21/dennis-cholowski-detroit-red-wings/1719362002/

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