For Red Wings' Dennis Cholowski, Michael Rasmussen, time in Grand Rapids will be important
Dennis Cholowski and Michael Rasmussen have had opportunities with the Detroit Red Wings.
They simply haven’t been able to turn those opportunities into full-time spots in the lineup, establish themselves as NHL regulars.
Both will continue to wait for their next opportunity in the NHL, as both former first-round draft picks were reassigned by the Wings to the minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins earlier this week.
Rasmussen, 21, played in eight games for the Wings this season, with two assists. Rasmussen was physical, and showed glimpses of being the big, shut-down center, and effective net-front presence the Wings envision Rasmussen being in the future.
But for now, with Robby Fabbri, Sam Gagner and Adam Erne all coming off the COVID-19 protocol list, there wasn’t enough playing time left for a young player like Rasmussen.
Better for Rasmussen to play major minutes, in all roles, in the American League.
“He took a step forward, he did a good job in the games,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He had opportunity, good opportunity playing on decent lines and on the power play.”
The key, as Blashill sees it, is for Rasmussen to continue developing the quickness to make decisions on the ice, both defensively and offensively.
“That comes with confidence, comes over time,” Blashill said. “The advantage of going to GR is growing that confidence and decisions with the puck. He’s taking steps in the right direction.
“There aren’t many guys his age (21) in the NHL. That’s the reality of it. I know he was drafted fairly high (ninth overall, 2017) but the reality is not a lot of players his age are in the NHL. This is a normal, to me, course of development.”
Rasmussen stayed with the Wings the 2018-19 season, rather than being returned to junior hockey where he had dominated the season before. Because Rasmussen had junior eligibility remaining, Rasmussen wasn’t allowed to be sent to the AHL.
“He played for us and in a perfect world, he would have played in the American League,” Blashill said. “He’s going to go down (to Grand Rapids) and work hard and if he looks and plays like he doesn’t belong down there, we’ll call him up.”
Cholowski remained on the taxi squad through January, practicing and working out with the Wings, but never getting into a game.
Cholowski, 22, has played 88 games in the NHL (nine goals, 15 assists), including being part of the Wings’ opening night roster the two previous seasons.
But Cholowski was unable to cement that spot either time, and wound up in the AHL both years (55 games, three goals, 22 assists).
With a long list of defenseman prospects on the way in the Wings’ organization, it appears time might be slipping away for Cholowski to show he’s a long-term building block in the organization.
“Ultimately what Dennis needs to do is be an elite power-play guy,” Blashill said.
Cholowski’s defensive struggles ultimately sent him back to the minor leagues the past two years, and Blashill said it continues to be important for Cholowski to end plays with the puck, and not let the puck get through him on rushes.
“He knows what he has to do and build his confidence,” Blashill said.
Just coming off a four-game road trip, the Wings began Wednesday a six-game trip lasting 11 days under the new, strict pandemic regulations.
Mainly, players aren't allowed to congregate and go out for meals, limiting most of their down time to hotel rooms.
For the coaching staff, Blashill said the new normal this season isn't that dramatically different from the past. Basically there are shorter days at the rink, and more time spent in meeting rooms at the hotel.
Blashill feels there might be a bit more difference for players, what with the emphasis on socially distancing.
"Just have to be smart about wearing masks and staying socially distant and our guys have been doing all of that," Blashill said.
Fabbri returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing six games after contracting the virus.
Fabbri texted teammates during his absence — the Wings were missing five regulars because of COVID protocol — but felt the Wings stayed as competitive as a team could be.
"It’s never easy when you’re losing five guys that were on your opening-night roster," Fabbri said. " Then to go on the road and battle some good teams, it was a lot on a lot of the guys. Everybody needed to step up and then some.
"We’re just happy to get back and help the guys out as much as we can and get back to where we were at the start of the year.”