The Seattle Kraken claimed Dennis Cholowski off of waivers on Wednesday, marking something of a homecoming for the young defenceman. Despite being plucked from the Detroit Red Wings by the Kraken in last summer’s expansion draft, Cholowski never played a game for the nascent franchise. The organization waived the blueliner prior to the season and was subsequently claimed by the Washington Capitals. He tallied a single point across seven games for the Capitals this season, sporting a minus-four rating in the process.
As a former first-round pick (picked 20th overall by the Red Wings in 2016), he entered the NHL sparkling with promise. He’d flashed his offensive potential in the Western Hockey League (WHL) by scoring 66 points in 69 games split between the Portland Winterhawks and Prince George Cougars in 2017-18.
The veteran of 111 NHL games carries a stat line of 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) to go with his extensive experience in the American Hockey League (AHL). Over parts of five seasons spent flitting between the minors and the NHL, Cholowski has produced 35 points in 69 games, creeping ever so slightly over the 0.5 point-per-game mark.
Despite his minor history of offensive exploits, his porous defensive record leaves much to be desired. On top of posting a cumulative minus-51 rating throughout his NHL career, Cholowski has never finished on the positive side of the shot or chance ledger in his four big-league campaigns. His routinely sub-50 percent share can be partially attributed to the atrocious state of the Red Wings during his tenure, but that can only wash away so much of the stink.
Cholowski is about to turn 24, nearing the age where defencemen are usually thought to have nearly developed to the peak of their potential. It’s fair to say that he’s never been given a fair shake (his NHL single-season high is only 52 games), but he’s never resoundingly demonstrated that he deserves a much longer leash than he’s been afforded thus far.
One area in which Cholowski could make the greatest impact is in zone transition. According to Corey Sznajder’s tracking data, the young skater graded out as Detroit’s second-best defender in terms of entering the opposition’s zone with control of the puck. Further, he led the team in the frequency at which a scoring chance was created off of said entries. Seeing as most, if not all, of the Red Wings’ blueliners ranked below average in those departments last season, Cholowski must have been doing something right.
Despite posting poor possession numbers, Cholowski is an adept protector of his blueline, frequently denying zone entries that lead to scoring chances against. Although his overall efficiency isn’t the greatest (seventh out of nine qualified blueliners last season), he keeps the danger to a minimum.
Seattle’s performances defensively suggest that there is an opportunity for Cholowski to rotate in and prove his mettle. After all, it’s unlikely that the franchise would have used a waiver claim on him if he didn’t figure into either of their short- or long-term plans at the position.
The Kraken have used nine total defensemen this season. Although three have featured in a majority of their games (Mark Giordano, Adam Larsson, and Vince Dunn), the remaining spots have generally been left up for grabs. Giordano and Dunn are tied for Seattle’s blueline scoring lead with 18 points, indicating that offense from the backend hasn’t been as plentiful as expected.
Cholowski’s relatively successful junior exploits suggest he could provide an offensive punch if needed, and the Kraken’s ice-cold power play (28th in efficiency) could use some new blood.
Where Does Cholowski Fit?
Given his sparse track record in the NHL and Seattle’s abundance of NHL-caliber defensemen, Cholowski likely begins his second (?) stint with the Kraken with their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. A brief minor-league reassignment offers him the chance to reintegrate into the organization and get more playing time than he saw with the Capitals. If all goes well, a call-up could be in the cards before too long. The current season is already a lost cause for the Kraken, so what’s the harm in bringing in a few new faces?