Detroit — Dennis Cholowski and Michael Rasmussen both came to their dressing stalls after the first morning skate of the season seeming calm and excited.
Cholowski, 20, and Rasmussen, 19, are both used to taking the next step in hockey. They have been doing it since early adolescence.
But, this time, the next step is The Big Step.
Cholowski and Rasmussen played their first games in the NHL for the Red Wings on Thursday at Little Caesars Arena.
And, while the Wings entered opening night with five players new to the NHL — the most they debuted since the season before Steve Yzerman became captain in 1985 — the spotlight is brighter for their two first-round draft picks, from 2016 and 2017.
Winning is important. But it will be far more consequential this season if victory is provided by development from the prominent prospects.
To say there is a premium on development, especially at the high end, understates the case.
For a franchise starving for its next stars, it is critical that their first-round picks develop that potential.
As the playoff run ended and the need for reconstructing the lineup became ever more apparent, counseling disappointed Wings fans on social media for the past couple of seasons and more, I have asserted: Watch Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, take two ginger ales and call me in the morning.
Athanasiou came in the fourth round, and Larkin and Mantha in the first. But they all have the potential to be critically important players for the Red Wings. Perhaps stars.
Add Cholowski and Rasmussen to the list.
A cut above
Strength of numbers made NHL debuts nearly commonplace opening night against the Blue Jackets. Christoffer Ehn, Filip Hronek and Libor Sulak also played their first games.
But Cholowski and Rasmussen are in a different class. Ehn, Hronek and Sulak might someday star in the league. But, it is less expected.
Cholowski and Rasmussen could prove critical. That is the considerable hope. And they seemed mostly fine breaking in.
Cholowski electrified the crowd by opening the scoring this season for the Red Wings at 7:46 of the second period.
Anticipating open ice in the slot, perfectly, when the puck headed towards a corner with Larkin in pursuit, Cholowski pinched aggressively from the blue line and skated almost to the low slot.
“I saw him look over his shoulder,” Cholowski said of Larkin providing a key.
Larkin found him, fed him perfectly and Cholowski fired a crisp wrist shot into the back of the net.
“It means a ton,” Cholowski said later. “Everyone dreams of scoring their first goal, and it was just kind of a blur.
“I hardly remember it, to be honest. It just kind of happened so fast.”
Wings coach Jeff Blashill gives his thoughts on his team's performance in Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
But, about eight minutes later, on the power play, he tried to make a better play instead of shooting. It resulted in a short-handed goal.
“I got the puck off the blue line and I saw and opening and tried to make a move and shoot it,” Cholowski said. “I think someone got their stick on it.”
Overall, he pronounced himself satisfied with his first game, with 19:51 time on ice, the goal on his only shot, one giveaway and two blocked shots.
Rasmussen played to less effect, on the third line, with 12:06 time on ice, 10th among the 12 forwards.
He had a shot on goal in two attempts with two hits and two giveaways.
It is but one building block, Rasmussen agreed.
“Anytime you gain experience, it’s good,” he said. “As a group, we’ve got to stay out of the box a little better.
“I think the speed and stuff like that is pretty similar (to the preseason). But everyone’s got such great sticks.
“I wasn’t too nervous. I was just excited and ready to go. Since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to do this. It’s not just me, it’s my family. They were pretty happy for me, up there, and I took a step, like I said. So, pretty lucky.”
Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he was generally pleased with both performances.
“I thought Dennis played a pretty good game,” Blashill said. “The goal was nice. He did a pretty good job of jumping into the play.
“I thought he showed real good poise.
“He made a mistake that resulted in a goal, but it didn’t affect him. He just kept playing.
“To me, it’s a young mistake, and a little bit of what we tried to do too much tonight, where we were trying to look for a better shot. I mean, he had a shot. I thought he should have taken the shot.”
As for Rasmussen, Blashill thought he played well, considering the big forward, with the potentially dominating net-front presence, had only 1:32 of power play time.
“We didn’t get tons of power play time, where I think he can be really effective,” Blashill said. “I thought overall he was physical, he was big, he was strong. I thought he had a good game.
“I like his game. I think it is a pro game.”
With one overtime loss under their belts, Cholowski and Rasmussen move on.
A season and more of development are ahead of them, and mistakes will no doubt come.
But, the question is, how much glory?
On that, and more, rest the future hopes of the Red Wings.