Cholowski living up to the hype
Dennis Cholowski is doing exactly what the Detroit Red Wings want him to do.
The team that picked him 20th overall in the 2016 NHL draft wanted the 19-yearold defenceman to play a season in the Western Hockey League with the Prince George Cougars to stimulate his creativity on the blueline and generate offence.
Looking at his point totals through six games since his return after three preseason games with the Wings, Cholowski appears to be acing his WHL test.
He’s scored three goals and has five assists for eight points, which puts him third in Cougars’ scoring heading into tonight’s game against the Kamloops Blazers (7 p.m. start), the start of a two-game set this weekend at CN Centre. He’s got at least one point in all six games he’s played.
“It’s been great, I would say it’s been a little bit of transition from pro but I think I’ve coped with it pretty well and we’re going good,” said Cholowski, who set up Kody McDonald’s second of three goals in Tuesday’s 7-1 win over the Calgary Hitmen.
“Kody’s been playing great in both ends of the ice and you always love having him out there. I love giving him the puck, knowing you’re either going to get it back or it’s going to be a good scoring chance. Being out there with that line (McDonald, Jared Bethune and Jackson Leppard) is a lot of fun.”
Now an assistant captain with the Cougars, Cholowski may well turn out to be the wisest 10th-round bantam pick the Cats have ever made. During the 2013 bantam draft he told WHL teams he was heading the NCAA route and ended up playing two seasons in the BCHL before he left to play for St. Cloud State last season.
But the Cougars took a chance he’d have a change of heart.
So far he’s lived up to the hype when the Cougars announced this summer Cholowski would be playing in Prince George. According to Cougars head coach Richard Matvichuk, his days as an NHL regular are not far away.
“He’s a very special player, his vision on the ice and the way he can skate. Detroit is looking for him to be that guy that pushes the envelope on the offensive side and that’s exactly what he does,” said Matvichuk. “His skating ability and his maturity level is off the charts. Being in college and playing with 23- and 24-year-olds you can see how mature he is and he’s so beneficial for us. He’s adjusted great, he’s one of our leaders and is going to be all year and our goal is to turn him into a pro hockey player, like we did with (Brendan) Guhle last year.”
Cholowski showed his maturity as an 18-year-old with the Chiefs in 2015-16 when he scored 12 goals and 40 points in 50 BCHL games. He also helped Canada West win gold that season at the World Junior A Hockey Challenge. Last season in the NCAA with the Huskies he was held to a goal and 12 assists in 36 games and as a late-season call-up played one game for the Wings’ AHL farm team in Grand Rapids.
The Wings gave him millions of reasons to cut short his college eligibility when they signed him to a three-year contract in July worth $2.775 million US. He would only draw that salary if he played for the Wings, but he still was able to bank a $92,500 signing bonus. In three NHL exhibition games he picked up one assist.
“It was a lot of fun and I was enjoying myself out there and I thought I did pretty well – I was honoured to get drafted there and I’m just trying to make it now,” said Cholowski.
“They want me to be more aggressive and more assertive on the ice, take more control and have the puck on my stick all the time and generate offence and create scoring chances. I have to be able to carry the puck and join some rushes and score some goals and get points, but also be responsible on the defensive end too.”
Don Hay’s Blazers (0-9-0-0) are off to their worst start in team history, taking on a team of Cougars (3-3-2-0) that sits third in the B.C. Division standings. The Cougars won the first game of the season series 6-2 on Oct. 4 in Kamloops.