The NHL draft may still be more than eight months away, but a Langley teen finds himself on the radar.
NHL Central Scouting released its preliminary player rankings last week (Sept. 29) with Dennis Cholowski making the list.
Cholowski, a second-year defenceman for the Chilliwack Chiefs, was given a C grade, which translates into a fourth to sixth round draft candidate.
He was just one of nine BCHL players on the initial list with only 19 junior A players from across all the Canadian league to earn that distinction.
“It means a lot,” the 17-year-old admitted.
“It has always been my goal to play in the NHL and being ranked for the NHL draft, this is the first step in getting there.
“I am really excited about it.”
But that doesn’t mean Cholowski is going to rest on his laurels in what is likely his final year of BCHL hockey.
“It just means more work is ahead; I have to keep going,” he said.
“I know there was quite a bit of buzz around during the (BCHL Bauer) Showcase here with NHL scouts, not just NHL Central Scouting,” said Chilliwack head coach and general manager Jason Tatarnic.
“He is obviously a player to watch.”
Cholowski is one of those defencemen that every team covets.
“He is that offensive defencemen every team wants,” Tatarnic said.
“(Dennis) is a fantastic skater and has great vision.
“The biggest thing is his skating ability; that is what makes him so good.”
Last season, Cholowski finished with four goals and 27 points in 55 games and was second on the team in points among the Chilliwack defencemen.
“I like to jump up into the rush and contribute on offence,” he said.
“But I also know my defensive responsibilities.”
He scored his first goal of the season on Friday night in a 6-4 loss to the Langley Rivermen at the Langley Events Centre. Cholowski also had an assist the next night as the team’s wrapped up a home-and-home series, but Langley won that one too, 3-2 in overtime.
He leads the Chiefs defence with six points in eight games.
Tatarnic said that like any rookie coming into a league where players are three and four years your senior, Cholowski was faced with some challenges early on.
“But because he is such a good skater, he was able to adjust pretty quick,” the coach said.
“As a 16-year-old he was on our power play, so that speaks volumes about his skill set.”
Cholowski, who is six-foot-one and 165 pounds, uses his speed to his advantage, whether it be bringing the puck out of his own end or while defending.
And he only committed a pair of minor penalties all of last season.
While the NHL remains the ultimate goal, Cholowski is also focused on his education.
He committed to St. Cloud State in Minnesota for next fall, once he is done high school.
He made the decision last November after visiting the university on an official visit to tour the campus and take in one of the team’s games.
“I loved everything about it; the campus was nice, the hockey was absolutely fantastic and the fans were great,” he described.
“As soon as I got back, I knew that was where I wanted to go.”
But before he heads off for university, Cholowski is determined to make the most of his last BCHL campaign.
“I think I just need to focus on playing my game, playing well, and not worrying about pressure or anything like that.
“Just staying calm,” he explained.
“I think we have a really good team and can go far in the league this year.”
Through the season’s first six games, Cholowski has four assists.
Another goal Cholowski can aim for is securing a spot in the Canadian Junior Hockey League Prospects Game.
It was announced on Sept. 30 that the game will be played at the South Surrey Arena on Jan. 26.
The 11th annual game will feature the top draft-eligible prospects from Team West against those from Team East.
There are 10 junior A hockey leagues across Canada.
The players are chosen based on the recommendations of NHL Central Scouting, who will also release updated draft prospects lists between now and June.