SPOKANE — Kraken defenseman Dennis Cholowski grew up an avid Vancouver Canucks fan in Langley, British Columbia, and was given an early chance to prove himself Sunday night against his favored boyhood team.
Included among the three defensive pairings partaking in Sunday’s game, Cholowski found himself partnered on the right point opposite Adam Larsson. It’s a crowded competition for spots on the Kraken’s blue line, with Cholowski arguably the only defender dressed for Sunday’s game — other pairings included Jamie Oleksiak and Mark Giordano, and Carson Soucy and Haydn Fleury — that isn’t considered a strong bet to make the team.
Cholowski, 23, a restricted free agent from Detroit who was the last of the Kraken choices leaked to the media the day of the July 21 expansion draft, instead appears in steep competition with a host of others for one of the final blue line jobs.
“Yeah, it’s exciting,’’ Cholowski said of Sunday’s start, adding he’d focus primarily on winning puck battles and boxing out opponents in front of the net. “Every game is an opportunity, so, you just go out and play.’’
The Kraken experimented with power-play groupings for the first time Sunday, with Cholowski manning the right point on a second unit that featured Calle Jarnkrok, Marcus Johansson, Joonas Donskoi and Morgan Geekie.
Seattle got an initial power play chance midway through the first with Canucks defenseman Jack Rathbone in the box but had several shots blocked. The last blocked attempt, by Cholowski, rolled onto the stick of a streaking Rathbone just as he stepped out of the box, and he wound up beating Philipp Grubauer to the short side with a shot from the left faceoff circle to open the scoring.
But Cholowski helped make up for it on a second period power play, drawing an assist on Jared McCann’s tying marker.
The 6-foot-2, 197-pound Cholowski appeared in 10 games for Detroit after being drafted 20th overall in 2016.
Cholowski played his junior hockey with Prince George and Portland of the Western Hockey League, so he’d had some games inside the Spokane Arena.
“It will be cool. I always liked that arena,’’ Cholowski said after Sunday’s morning skate in Seattle. “The fans are way up high, if I remember, and they’re always packed in. So, I always liked that arena.’’
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said these preseason games have added importance for a new franchise still feeling its way and getting to know players. That’s especially true on defense, given the number of guys competing for what might realistically be only a couple of open spots.
“We have a lot of competition on the blue line,’’ Hakstol said. “I think we all know that. Our players know that. So, that’s one critical and key area we’ll be watching.’’
McCann at center?
Among primary tasks for Hakstol is figuring out his top-line center. Alex Wennberg is one option, but the Kraken is taking a long look at McCann, 25, a top-six forward acquired from Toronto in the expansion draft just days after the Maple Leafs landed him from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a trade.
There had been much debate in Pittsburgh as to whether McCann projects better as a winger, a position he’d primarily played the past couple of seasons — though he served as the second line center when Sidney Crosby went down.
“Obviously, for me personally, I’m trying to get used to being back at center,’’ McCann said after Sunday’s morning skate. “I’ve been playing winger the past two seasons so I’m trying to get back to being used to it.’’
McCann has worked with wingers Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle since the start of camp and said the consistency has made it easier to find some rhythm.
The trio also got first-unit powerplay work Sunday along with Giordano and Ryan Donato. And McCann made things look easy at 8:36 of the second period, tying the game 2-2 with a powerplay wrist shot from the left circle that beat Canucks goalie Arturs Silovs upstairs.
- The Kraken hasn’t named a team captain yet but will instead rotate alternates for each game. Giordano and Schwartz had the honors Sunday.
- All Kraken players sported game jerseys with the No. 21 — symbolizing the team’s inaugural 2020-21 season — emblazoned on their backs Sunday night. The plan in coming weeks is to sell the jerseys as part of the Anchor Auction being undertaken by the team’s One Roof Foundation.
- Among those attending Sunday’s game was Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke, who spent the past six years preparing and now finalizing the $1 billion overhaul of Climate Pledge Arena.