Washington Capitals defenseman Dennis Cholowski made his rather unexpected season debut in a fitting way on Sunday, facing his former club in the Seattle Kraken.
The 23-year-old blueliner was originally a healthy scratch for the 18th straight game, but with Conor Sheary suffering an upper-body injury in warm-ups, Cholowski finally drew into the lineup as Washington rolled with 11 forwards and seven defensemen with T.J. Oshie also sidelined.
It wasn’t the best game for Cholowski. As the game progressed, No. 38 skated alongside Justin Schultz on some shifts as Trevor van Riemsdyk played both defense and the wing on the second line with Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Connor McMichael. In just 9:57 minutes on the ice (lowest among Capitals against Seattle), Cholowski managed two blocked shots and was a minus-2. He also had a costly turnover that led to a Calle Jarnkrok goal that ultimately put the Kraken up 4-1 in the second. Washington ultimately fell 5-2.
Despite the struggles, Cholowski still has potential for the Capitals. And in the end, Washington was wise to pick him up off waivers from Seattle earlier in the year.
First off, it was a rather surprising game and an odd situation. Cholowski found out minutes before puck drop that he would be dressing, and after a rather long time away from game action, it can be difficult to get back into the full swing of things. Plus, Seattle turned up the pressure in the second and completely tilted the ice, making that adjustment even more difficult. A perfect game for Cholowski was not a realistic expectation given the “weird circumstance,” as Trevor van Riemsdyk referred to it.
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Looking at Cholowski as a player, there is still tremendous upside and a lot he can bring to the table for the organization. The 2016 first-round pick is an offensive-minded d-man who can join the rush and skate very well. His mobility and puck-carrying ability is something that also meshes well with Peter Laviolette’s systems.
He is still young and has plenty of potential in him; he just needs to find more consistency and clean up on the backcheck. That, of course, comes with time in game situations. Practice is of course productive, but not identical to real-time play by any means.
One thing Washington could do is send Cholowski down to the AHL for more minutes and development. However, he would have to clear waivers before getting time in with Hershey. Matt Irwin would also be the only extra defenseman on the Capitals’ roster in this circumstance. And with injuries striking constantly, keeping Cholowski around on the main roster for extra insurance may be a good idea.
Overall, there is still upside for Cholowski, and one game isn’t any reason to write him off yet.