Detroit — Give Dennis Cholowski credit.
The Red Wings told the young defenseman what he needed to improve on and Cholowski acted.
And Monday, as the Red Wings prepared for the start of the regular season Saturday in Nashville, Cholowski was on the ice and in the lineup.
“I tried to go out and play my game and work hard and see what happens,” said Cholowski, the Wings’ 2016 first-round pick. “I don’t know if I’m surprised, or not surprised, I just tried to go out and play my best and hopefully it worked out — and it did.”
Cholowski, 21, made the Wings’ out of training camp last year but it wasn’t an ideal situation. Four of the top six defensemen were injured, and in essence, Cholowski was rushed and put into situations where he wasn’t ready.
By mid-season, Cholowski’s confidence was dropping and his play was slipping badly. So, Cholowski was demoted to Grand Rapids where he finished the season.
“It was eye-opening being sent down, nobody wants that,” Cholowski said. “When I was sent down, I figured out what they wanted me to do and what I needed to work on and that’s what I did.”
Coach Jeff Blashill primarily wanted Cholowski to be better at recognizing dangerous situations and avoid allowing quality scoring chances, and do a better job of ending plays, whether that be in his gaps against an opposing rush or in the defensive zone.
Cholowski has been noticeably better in the defensive zone during the preseason, and the result is a spot in the lineup.
“The fact he didn’t give up a whole of chances is a real positive,” Blashill said. “As the year went along last year he gave up a lot of chances and you can’t out-chance your mistakes in this league.
“As of right now, I project him to be in the starting lineup Saturday.”
Cholowski is expected to be paired with Trevor Daley, while also seeing time on the predominately left-handed power play with the Dylan Larkin line.
Blashill likes Cholowski being on that unit, with the increased puck movement and shot-making ability with all left-handers.
There was a sense of calmness about Cholowski during the preseason and it certainly paid off.
“I just feel a little more experienced, I guess that would be the biggest thing — a year under my belt and knowing what it’s like a little bit,” Cholowski said. “I feel calm and less frantic and I’m just kind of enjoying the process, I guess.”
The Wings made their roster decisions over the weekend, sending former first-round picks Michael Rasmussen, Moritz Seider, Evgeny Svechnikov, Joe Veleno and Filip Zadina, among others down to Grand Rapids.
In nearly every case, the Wings’ felt those young players’ development would be better off served playing large minutes in Grand Rapids.
“We want to put them in spots where they can develop and play a little bit more,” Blashill said.
Seider, 18, the Wings’ first-round pick in June, had an impressive preseason but still needs to adapt to professional hockey.
“It’s just game experience,” Blashill said. “He’ll figure it out because he’s so hockey-smart. What he can get away with, and not get away with.He’s going to be a real good player, it’s just a matter of let’s make sure we let it run its course.”
Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson isn’t going to be lineup this weekend, said Blashill, after having missed all last week with an undisclosed injury.
The Wings will have an entire week between their final exhibition game last weekend in Toronto and the regular season opener Saturday in Nashville.
But Blashill considers that a needed development.
“For us it’s real beneficial because the way the schedule was set up, we never really got to practice as a group,” Blashill said. “We had a longer practice practice (Monday), and we’ll practice (Tuesday) and take Wednesday off, then come back at it for two days and play back-to-back (to start the regular season).
“It’s an advantage based on our preseason schedule.”
Red Wings at Predators
Faceoff: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
Outlook: Season opener for a Wings team in the midst of a rebuild.