The Capitals made a surprise move on Thursday claiming defenseman Dennis Cholowski off waivers from the Seattle Kraken.
Prior to the season, it looked like Washington had too many left defensemen. Now, however, 2018 first-round draft pick Alex Alexeyev looks a like he's still a year away from being NHL ready, Michal Kempny was reassigned to the AHL's Hershey Bears after a lackluster preseason and veteran Matt Irwin looks like a purely depth piece.
All of which lead to Washington playing with four right-shot defensemen in their top six in Wednesday's season opener against the New York Rangers. The Caps are hoping Cholowski can add depth to bolster the left side of the blue line.
"Our management, scouts, they get a good look at a player -- a young player, first-round pick, good size to him, good skating mobility -- and so just an opportunity to have him become part of our organization and see where he fits in," Washington head coach Peter Laviolette said. "We're excited to get him here."
Cholowski was not on the ice for Friday's practice and was expected to arrive later in the day. Laviolette said he expects him to be on the ice for the morning skate prior to the Saturday game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Cholowski was selected by Seattle in the NHL's expansion draft, but did not play in either of the team's first two games. He is a product of the Detroit Red Wings, who he played 104 games with including 16 in the 2021 season. While there, he was teammates with Caps forward Anthony Mantha and defenseman Nick Jensen, both of whom spoke glowingly of him.
"Great offensive-minded defenseman," Mantha said. "Obviously, he could make great plays in the o-zone. I know he was working hard on his D-zone aspect so maybe over here, a different style of play, it's going to be great."
"Just as a player, really poised with the puck, sees the ice really well," Jensen said. "He'll be able to make a lot of great plays. He's a really good puck-mover anywhere, in all zones. D-zone, neutral zone, offensive zone, he knows where he's going with the puck at all times. He's never guessing, he's never making hope plays. I think he sees the ice really well, it's one of his top qualities and he's just a pretty smart, skilled player."
At 6-foot-2, 197 pounds, Cholowski adds some size, something the team lost a lot of with the departure of veteran defensemen Zdeno Chara and Brenden Dillon in the offseason. But Cholowski's main asset is his puck-moving ability which is what ultimately led him to be a first-round draft pick in 2016.
Because he was claimed by the Capitals, Cholowski never technically cleared waivers so he cannot be assigned to Hershey without Washington placing him back on waivers. Knowing this, the Caps would not have claimed him without intending to see what he can do that the NHL level.
Fans should expect him to remain with the team for practice and perhaps even a game or two as Washington evaluates just what they have. If Washington likes what it sees, perhaps he will stay and add some depth to the blue line. If not, then he will likely find himself back on waivers and headed either back to Seattle or to Hershey.
Ultimately, fans should keep their expectations low. This is a player who never spent a full season in the NHL even with a team as bad as Detroit, who was left unprotected in the expansion draft and who was placed on waivers by Seattle.
Claiming him was a gamble, but one with no real stakes for Washington. It's a roll of the dice the Caps can afford to make with the team's sudden cap flexibility with Nicklas Backstrom on long-term injured reserve.
The hope is that some time to work with assistant coach Kevin McCarthy will unlock Cholowski's hidden potential.
"[McCarthy] has a way of imparting his knowledge on others on how to play the game and he does it in a very positive environment," Laviolette said. "I think it will be a good fit for Kevin to try and work with [Cholowski] and help him and see if we can't get him to be part of the group."