St. Paul, Minn. — A familiar face was back in the Red Wings’ locker room, in time for Wednesday’s morning skate. Defenseman Dennis Cholowski had been recalled from Grand Rapids, with Mike Green out for a few weeks.
In a sense, it’s as if Cholowski never left.
“It’s always exciting to be back,” said Cholowski, who had eight points (two goals) in 29 games with the Wings before getting sent back to Grand Rapids.
With Grand Rapids, Cholowski had five points (two goals) in 17 games.
When Cholowski was sent down, it was with marching orders to be more assertive — at both ends of the rink.
But a touch more so on the defensive end — Cholowski always has been considered further ahead offensively — and, evidently, there has been improvement in Grand Rapids in that part of his game.
“He’s grown,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s continued to work on things he has to get beter at. We want to make sure we can get the puck out of our end and we need a power play, so we called him up.”
It’ll be interesting to watch in the months and years ahead how the assertiveness issue will work itself out.
Cholowski’s laid-back nature extends to the way he plays. Blashill acknowledged Cholowski will take some time getting there.
“That’s going to change slowly, it’s not going to change overnight,” Blashill said. “It’s just making sure he’s assertive with and without the puck, in plays, both on the track and in gapping, and in the defensive zone.
“That’ll be his focus, defensively. But be assertive with the puck (too). Make a bunch of play. He’s made plays at the NHL at different times over his tenure, and we need him to keep making plays.”
Cholowski, 21, feels like the last several weeks have been his best this season, while in Grand Rapids.
“The last couple weeks would probably be the best I’ve played in a while, as far as the defensive zone goes, ending plays,” Cholowski said. “I have to continue that.
“The biggest (order from the Wings) was the defensive zone when I went down. Make sure I’m ending plays and being hard to play against, and the let the offense take over.
“I was really focusing on the defensive zone at first and making sure I end the play so I can go on offense, You have to end the play and be aggressive in the defensive zone in order to get the puck and go on offense.
“It goes hand in hand.”
Cholowski will quarterback the Wings’ No. 1 power play, something he did during the first part of the season when he was in the NHL.
Cholowski has shown skill and confidence in that role, although a tendency to take too much of a risk, at times.
“A guy on the power play that is going to quarterback your power play can take control, make plays and isn’t afrad to make a mistake,” Blashill said. “Not be careless but not be afraid to make a mistake — attack the game a little bit.
“I would use (Livonia/Boston Bruins defenseman) Torey Krug as an example for everybody in the league. He does a real good job with it. (Vancouver’s) Quinn Hughes right now, he is doing a real good job of attacking. He’s taking the shot when he should shoot, and making a play when he should be making a play.
“That’s what a guy with confidence does. Hopefully Cholo’s done a good job of building that confidence up down there and he can come up and do the same here.”
Forward Givani Smith entered Wednesday night's game against the Wild with two goals in the last four games, and his work around the net has been a big positive, either screening goalies or showing an offensive touch around the net.
Smith's development the last several ye
ars in the minor leagues, and now the NHL, is paying off.
"He's a worker," forward Dylan Larkin said. "For a skilled player, he works hard. Every game his confidence is building."
Blashill noted the way Smith is handling the puck as a sign of the young player's confidence.
"He's making the right plays, he's not careless with it," Blashill said. "He's just confident with it. There's a fine line there. Sometimes you get careless as an offensive player and end up turning pucks over.
"He's not doing that. He's playing confident and getting over the puck. He knows he has a little more time."