Detroit — Dennis Cholowski is taking a different approach this time around.
Instead of worrying about and critiquing his every play on the ice, wondering what the Red Wings’ front office and coaching staff are thinking, Cholowski has altered his mindset.
“I’m kind of more calm,” Cholowski said during a Monday Zoom chat with media. “Mentally I just think about going out and playing each shift and not worrying about too much.”
Cholowski, 23, was the Wings’ first-round pick in 2016. In the two previous seasons, he was able to make the opening night roster, only to see defensive issues and declining offensive numbers as the seasons progressed. Those issues sent him back to Grand Rapids for more seasoning and experience.
Cholowski was beginning to be his own worst enemy.
“I was kind of wanting to prove to people, whether it be the defensive or offensive side, what I can do and kind of getting into my own head a little bit,” Cholowski said. “This year, the transition has been to just go out and play and not worry about it too much.”
After getting advice from his agent, Cholowski has been in contact with “people” from his representation who help him deal with being a professional athlete.
“Just being through the things I’ve been through over the last couple of years, and being up and down and going kind of through a rollercoaster of emotions, I’ve kind of seen it all at this point,” Cholowski said. “Now, I’m just like I’m going to roll with the punches and continue to work hard every day.
“The people through my agent, just talking with them, maybe once a week, and just making sure I’m mentally locked in every day and pushing aside anything I’d be worried about and focusing on me.”
Coach Jeff Blashill feels Cholowski’s new attitude is part of a growth process that any young hockey player goes through.
“Players like Dennis and Michael Rasmussen, those types of players, it’s all about learning what you can control and you can’t control, and not playing to be afraid to make a mistake, regardless of what the message is or isn’t from the general manager and coach ” said Blashill, who along with GM Steve Yzerman felt it was the right move at the right time to promote Cholowski. “Go and control what you can control.”
The pandemic gave Cholowski ample time to work out and develop physically and on the ice.
Cholowski is listed at 6-foot-2, 197-pounds. Teammates and coaches agree he has gotten physically stronger, which was one area that needed improvement.
“The first thing (you notice) is the strength and the transformation of his body type by the hard work in the gym,” said forward Dylan Larkin, who was part of a group along with Cholowski that trained together through the summer. “You see it carry over on the ice into a more explosive first step.
“He seems to be harder to push around, in front of the net and in battles. He’s strong on his stick. He’s a hard-working guy and he’s done a lot to improve his game.”
Cholowski has felt a noticeable difference on the ice when involved in puck battles.
“I feel a lot bigger on the ice, a lot stronger,” Cholowski said. “I’ve gained a bit of weight. It’s helped out, as far as the physical aspect. Just winning more puck battles and having confidence going into those battles that I can knock guys off the puck and win the battle.”
Cholowski understands he’s reaching a crucial point in his time with the Wings’ organization.
With the rebuilding underway, Cholowski must make an impact soon on a Wings’ front office that didn’t draft him and is looking at a large group of defenseman prospects arriving in Detroit soon.
Prospects such as Moritz Seider, Jared McIsaac, Albert Johansson, Donovan Sebrango, Antti Tuomisto and William Wallinder among recent draft picks who are likely to get opportunities in the coming years.
Cholowski understands he needs to show he can be a piece for the Wings to build around.
“Every day you have to show what your value is,” Cholowski said. “Obviously it’s getting to the point where I have to prove it every night. I’m going to continue to go out and play with confidence and show them what value I have.”
Cholowski was hoping to make the opening night roster in January. But with shortened training camp, no exhibition games, and the Wings wanting to get their NHL regulars quickly into game shape, it was nearly a foregone conclusion Cholowski would open the season in Grand Rapids.
“You go into training camp thinking you have a chance every year, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t too worried about it,” Cholowski said. “They wanted me to go down to Grand Rapids and play and prove something to them, and my mindset was I was going to go down and do it and hopefully be back soon.”
Cholowski played approximately 12 minutes in Saturday’s loss against Dallas, saw power play time, and is likely to keep getting ice time as the Wings hit the road for a two-game trip in Nashville.
This time, this season, there is a confidence, Cholowski insists, that wasn’t there before. A different outlook heading into NHL opportunity.
“For sure,” said Cholowski, whether he is playing with renewed confidence. “Like I said before, mentally I just feel better. I’m not worrying about things and kind of just going out and playing and that gives you the most confidence when you put it that way.”
Red Wings at Nashville
► Faceoff: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
► TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Red Wings (10-18-4) and Predators (14-17-1) begin a two-game series in Nashville…The Predators, 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, defeated Dallas on Sunday …LW Filip Forsberg (11 goals, 28 points) is having a big season.