Lions starters open preseason with a roar on offense, whimper on defense

‘Dedicated’ Cholowski urged to model Wings’ Daley

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Come training camp in September, young defenseman Dennis Cholowski already has his homework assignment.

And when Cholowski is watching the Red Wings on television during the regular season, there’s something to concentrate on for him.

Watch Trevor Daley.

The newest Red Wings defenseman, signed as a free agent on July 1, Daley is a good example for Cholowski, the Red Wings’ 2016 first-round draft pick, on the ice.

It was a point stressed several times by Shawn Horcoff, the Red Wings’ director of player development, during the recent Red Wings’ development camp for their prospects and recent draft picks.

The two play similar brands of hockey, though Daley, obviously, is much more advanced.

Cholowski will benefit watching, said Horcoff, how Daley uses his speed and poise with the puck.

“Watching a guy like Trevor Daley, you can learn a lot from a guy like that,” Horcoff said. “A guy that can go back and just break the puck out. It’s such a valuable tool to have a defenseman that can go back, and with speed, turn the corner and with a couple of crossovers, he’s beaten everyone down the ice and then one nice pass and we’re on instant offense.

“Dennis has that ability, and those guys are tough to find. We’re going to try to make him one of those guys.”

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After completing his freshman season at St. Cloud State (Minn.), Cholowski decided to accelerate that professional development by forgoing his college career and turning pro, signing with the Red Wings.

Horcoff had an opportunity to work with Cholowski this spring, as Cholowski was a black ace — an extra body at practice — for the Grand Rapids Griffins (Red Wings’ minor-league affiliate) during the Griffins’ Calder Cup championship run.

“He’s a dedicated guy, he can’t do enough,” Horcoff said. “He’s always asking, ‘What can I do?’ That’s my favorite type of player and person.

“He’s made an overall commitment to conditioning, to getting bigger, stronger. He knows that in order to play at the next level, he needs to get physically stronger and he’s already done that.

“He’s up 10 pounds since I had him in Grand Rapids at the start of their run. So in three months, he’s put on some good strength.”

Cholowski didn’t overwhelm anyone statistically playing at St. Cloud, which had a very young roster and struggled to reach .500.

In 36 games Cholowski had one goal and 11 assists, with a minus-9 plus-minus rating.

When the Red Wings offered a pro contract after his college season, Cholowski felt the time was right to turn pro.

“Basically, Detroit offered the contract and wanted to speed up the development a little bit,” Cholowski said. “I wasn’t going to turn it down so I was happy to sign it and be here.”

The Griffins put Cholowski into one regular season game, where he was a plus-1.

But more than the excitement of playing in his first American Hockey League game, the chance to be around the Griffins during the playoffs was invaluable.

“Just getting to be around the guys and seeing what pro hockey is like a little bit, it was a lot of fun being in Grand Rapids,” Cholowski said. “I remember being nervous before the game (Cholowski played) but once you get on the ice, it was just hockey. Obviously it’s bigger and faster guys, but I coped pretty well with it.”

Where Cholowski continues to develop next hockey season remains up in the air.

He’s still a long ways from the NHL. With college no longer an option, Cholowski could wind up in Grand Rapids or if the Red Wings feel it’s best for his development, probably play junior hockey in the Western Hockey League in Prince George, which owns his junior rights.

Cholowski is determined to gain more physical strength as the summer continues.

“They’ve been stressing getting bigger and stronger this summer, putting on some weight, which I’ve already done,” Cholowski said. “Right now, I don’t know where I’ll be next year. I’m just going to do my best to make whatever team I can.

“I’ll play wherever they want me to play.”

Twitter: @tkulfan