The Detroit Red Wings will be loosing a player to the newly minted Seattle Kraken on July 21st, when the NHL Expansion Draft begins. Perhaps the biggest question for the Red Wings in the expansion draft is: which defensemen should be protected?
The answer is simple. Filip Hronek, Troy Stecher and Dennis Cholowski.
Hronek and Stecher
First, let’s go over the first two defenseman that should be protected – the “easy” decisions. With the ability to only protect three defensemen (Assuming Steve Yzerman goes with the seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie), Detroit’s first two slots should go to the two best defensemen for Detroit this season. And that’s Hronek and Stecher.
Although Hronek was criticized throughout the season for masking regression with secondary points, he was still the defenseman that the organization trusted the most. There’s a reason he scored those empty-netters – he was almost always on the ice in those must-win situations.
Similarly, Stecher was a defensive anchor for the blue line. His play was so good, it made Marc Staal look like an above average defender. While it’s not quite as obvious as Hronek, protecting Stecher after the season he had just makes too much sense.
Cholowski Over Lindstrom
With Hronek and Stecher (hypothetically) under protection, there’s just one slot left on the blue line, which is a bit unfortunate for the two young defensemen on the team, Cholowski and Lindstrom. Yzerman might have a bit of a tough time deciding between the two, but the answer is clear: protect Cholowski.
This is a bit of a divisive topic in the Red Wings community. Those who lean towards protecting Lindstrom say he’s currently a better defenseman. And they’re right. Looking at their post-draft trajectories and how they both performed this season, Lindstrom comes out on top. Cholowski has been up and down constantly since drafted. Last year, it seemed like he had finally stuck onto the main roster. But as the defensive lapses continued, it became clear that he needed more time developing, and he spent most of the 2020-21 season in Grand Rapids. Being a few years younger, Lindstrom’s path to the team thus far has essentially been when the roster needs filled.
Both were called up during the last stretch of the season, and while neither had breakout performances, it seemed Lindstrom was significantly more comfortable on the main roster. While Cholowski looked confused and apprehensive with the puck, Lindstrom would stay calm and make a slick tape-to-tape pass or perform another safe way to maintain the team’s possession while driving play.
So if Lindstrom is the better player and looks like a better NHL player right now, why should Yzerman to protect Cholowski? Upside.
Fans have seen what Lindstrom is at his best. He’s essentially already near his ceiling; he’s a safe, smart bottom pairing defenseman that won’t make a lot of mistakes – but he also won’t wow anyone. General Managers can find these sort of players anywhere. In fact, Yzerman signed two before the season started: Jon Merrill and Patrik Nemeth.
Cholowski, on the other hand, has quite the upside. In nearly every stint with Grand Rapids, he becomes their go-to quarterback of the power play. Cholowski can run the offense without a man advantage, too. He has a great shot and a natural ability to drive play in the offensive zone. But for some reason, he just hasn’t found a way to translate it to the NHL.
So while protecting Cholowski might not be the safest bet, it’s the smartest one. With Cholowski, there’s a good chance you have a player that fizzles out at the NHL and becomes a regular in the AHL. But if developed properly, there’s also the opportunity for an offensive defenseman that can quarterback a power play and even some even strength offense; both needs Detroit desperately needs filled.