Detroit – Dennis Cholowski spent the summer here working almost daily with skills coaches and hearing the same things.
He heard it so much, he has it memorized.
“Being more assertive and aggressive, especially in the defensive zone, making sure I win my (puck) battles, kill plays as fast as I can, and make sure my gaps are good and get the puck north as quick as I can,” Cholowski said. “They were preaching that a lot to me this summer.”
All the practice and preaching might have paid off.
The Wings’ must submit their season-opening roster by Tuesday at 5 p.m. – they’ll likely make those decisions long before then – and Cholowski is somewhat surprisingly very much in the mix to remain in Detroit rather than start in Grand Rapids.
An injury to Jonathan Ericsson, Cholowski out-playing several other candidates, and possibly filling a need – a left-hander shooter at the point on the power play – all have given Chowlowski a chance to stick in the NHL.
“Dennis has been sharp moving the puck, he’s been more physically engaged, he’s ended cycles better and gapped good,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s had a really good start to his preseason. “
Blashill was impressed with the work Cholowski did over the summer.
“You want to talk about putting the work in, he’s done it,” Blashill said. “He’s put himself in good position, now you have to keep going.”
Cholowski had two assists in Thursday’s 4-1 victory over St. Louis in Calumet in another sound all-around performance.
Right now, Trevor Daley, Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Filip Hronek and Patrick Nemeth are locks as top-six defensemen. Madison Bowey, after an eye-opening exhibition season (and not being waiver-exempt anymore), appears to have nailed down a roster spot.
Then there’s Jonathan Ericsson, who is nursing an injury and Blashill is unsure of a return for Ericsson.
Cholowski could land a roster position, but the Wings would prefer he be playing regularly and often, something he’d be doing in Grand Rapids, but not necessarily with the Wings right away.
Blashill reiterated Friday the Wings will make their decisions on what is best for the team, but also for the individual development of the player.
The fact Cholowski shoots left-handed could give him a minor edge.
Green and Hronek, both on the power play, shoot right-handed. Blashill likes a left-handed shooter to balance things.
“The left shot is important on that power play because everybody else in lefty,” Blashill said. “When you walk down the wall, you have a lefty up the top to Cholowski, you have a lefty to (Dylan) Larkin, you have a lefty over to (Anthony) Mantha. Now it makes it harder on the penalty kill for sure (because) their top forward can’t just overprotect Larkin; he has to be aware of that shot coming back to Cholowski.
“We would prefer a left, if possible. Last year, (Niklas) Kronwall did a great job with it. But we’d prefer a lefty.”
Cholowski has worked on the penalty kill, also, during this preseason.
Last preseason, the Wings were decimated with injuries to defensemen and Cholowski wound up on the opening night roster after a fine camp.
But around midseason, with his defensive shortcomings coming through and confidence waning, Cholowski was sent to Grand Rapids in favor of Hronek.
There’s been competition this season, with defensemen Joe Hicketts and Oliwer Kaski also in the mix for roster spots, but Cholowski has only concentrated on what he can do.
“You are fighting for jobs and everybody wants to win (those jobs) and play well,” Cholowski said. “You can’t worry about it too much. Just put it out of your head and play my game.
“I had that mindset last year and I’m coming in with the same thing this year.”
Red Wings at Maple Leafs
Faceoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
TV/radio: NHL Network/97.1 FM
Outlook: This is the Red Wings' final preseason game. They begin the regular season on Saturday, Oct. 5 at Nashville.