The Detroit Red Wings’ most recent first-round draft picks are finding success early on in the Western Hockey League season. Defenceman Dennis Cholowski, drafted 20th overall in 2016, and big-bodied centerman Michael Rasmussen, Detroit’s ninth overall pick last June, have both started strong for their teams in 2017-18.
Both selections were met with a fair amount of criticism from loyal fans in Hockeytown when they were drafted, not so much in regard to each player’s actual ability, but rather in contrast to the highly-touted names that the Red Wings passed on in favor of selecting the pair. Detroit’s two-decade run of success hasn’t allowed the club many high-end first rounds picks in that time frame, thus making the team’s two recent first-round choices that much more meaningful.
While both players will understandably spend some much-needed development time outside of Detroit, as is the Red Wings’ way of maturation, the duo will have many eyes fixed upon them as they continue to make their journey towards the NHL. As it stands right now, all signs point to promising and productive futures.
Cholowski Shines on the Blue Line
When the team drafted the young defender in 2016, it was a selection born out of necessity. Detroit general manager Ken Holland had to move Pavel Datsyuk’s contract/cap hit after “The Magic Man” decided to finish his career closer to his family in his native Russia. The Wings moved Datsyuk’s financial burden along with the 16th overall pick to the Arizona Coyotes for the 20th pick. The Coyotes selected promising blue-liner Jakob Chychrun with the pick, and Detroit turned heads by announcing Cholowski’s name.
Considered to be a project from the day he was drafted, the young defenceman has a lot of natural skills you would want on an NHL caliber blue-liner. He was assigned to the Prince George Cougars after a decent showing during Detroit’s annual prospect tournament and training camp, and now he is standing out as one of the WHL’s top defenders.
Through his first six regular-season games with the Cougars, he has totaled three goals and five assists. Two of his three goals and three of his five assists came on the power play. Cholowski’s eight total points rank him seventh in scoring among WHL defencemen.
While it’s still early, the young blue-liner’s hot start is an encouraging one. The Red Wings’ defense is one area most in need of future talent. He may not be the game-changing, top-tier defender that all NHL rosters wish for but he could be a reliable player that Detroit can build a solid defensive core around.
Rasmussen Plays His Game
While Cholowski is soaring on the back-end with Prince George, Rasmussen continues to play the big power-forward style of hockey that the Red Wings drafted him for. Coming off an impressive preseason performance that may have swayed the opinion of some of his doubters, the six-foot-six center is also starting strong in his fourth season with the Tri-City Americans, his first as team captain.
In his first five games with the Americans, he totaled three goals and three assists. All three goals and one assist were scored on the man advantage. Rasmussen has been praised and knocked for scoring the majority of his goals on the power play as opposed to at even strength, but it’s a skill that will benefit the Red Wings who have struggled on the power play over the last few seasons. He also has a 58.8% face-off win percentage.
The big-bodied forward earned an extended look during the preseason, a fact that should be encouraging for Detroit’s newest top prospect. While he might not be ready to contend for a top-six center position in 2017-18, Rasmussen’s resolve and effort may have put the wheels in motion to battle for a roster spot next year.
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Head coach Jeff Blashill also believes that the young center can build on what he’s already demonstrated and make a case for himself next season:
“I think this gives him experience to hopefully build on, go back and have a great year. And then if he has a great year and he’s (already) had a great training camp, he’s starting to make a statement that he wants to try and make the team a year from now.”
It may be a year or two before Cholowski and Rasmussen suit up for the Red Wings during the regular season but the pair will be watched closely by the front office and fans. Both players bring skills that Detroit will need in the future if the organization wishes to reclaim their spot as one of the NHL’s elite teams.