Just because Dennis Cholowski has been drafted — by one of the premier National Hockey League franchises no less — does not mean he will rest on his laurels.
The Detroit Red Wings selected the 18-year-old from Langley in the first round, 20th overall, during the NHL entry draft on Friday at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center.
“It is very exciting thing to get drafted in the first round but what it really means is the hard work starts now,” Cholowski said on Monday.
“I have to get in the gym and get bigger and stronger and continually working on my game and be better on the ice. The hard work is not over, it is just starting.”
Cholowski was in Buffalo with his parents, John and Natalie, older brother Frederick, and his cousin, Christian Laughland.
Jason Tatarnic, Cholowski’s head coach with the B.C. Hockey League’s Chilliwack Chiefs the past two seasons, was also in attendance.
Cholowski skyrocketed up rankings
At the start of this past season, the defenceman was listed as a potential fourth to sixth round draft candidate.
A solid showing at the World Junior A Hockey Challenge — where he helped Canada West win gold in December — seemed to be a turning point.
“Being able to work as hard as I did and see that ranking keep going up and up, knowing it was paying off, that was very exciting,” Cholowski said.
He began skyrocketing up the rankings.
At the NHL Combine earlier this month, 29 of the 30 NHL clubs — all except Pittsburgh — spoke to Cholowski.
But he had no idea who might draft him — or when — but he said Tatarnic suspected the Wings were interested. And after they acquired the 20th pick, the Chiefs coach came and sat beside Cholowski and his family.
“That kind of gave me suspicion and sure enough, it turns out to be them,” Cholowski said.
Getting drafted a surreal experience
“It was a blur. Just so exciting for me and my family. Jumping around and screaming. It was a surreal experience for sure.”
Tyler Wright, Detroit’s director of amateur scouting, told DetroitRedWings.com that Cholowski was a really good fit for their organization.
“We think he’s just kind of hitting the tip of the iceberg,” Wright said.
“He’s a young kid that’s still growing, could be one of the best-skating defencemen in this draft. So we’re really intrigued by size, skating ability, puck-moving ability.
“You can’t have enough smart, good puck-moving defencemen on your hockey club.”
Three years ago, Cholowski was five-foot-six and 126 pounds.
He is now six-foot-one and 180 pounds.
Growth spurt helps game
“For the hockey world, I was a bit of a late bloomer. Obviously I was pretty small back then and then had my big growth spurt. Just being able to use my body a little bit more, being able to use my size now that I am not small, I think really helped me out a lot.”
Cholowski played his minor hockey with the Langley Minor Hockey Association through the bantam level. He then joined the Yale Hockey Academy before catching on with the Chiefs.
In his two seasons with Chilliwack, Cholowski had 16 goals and 67 points in 106 games, with another four goals and 22 points in 32 playoff games.
He also earned a scholarship to Minnesota’s St. Cloud State.
Cholowski top Langley Minor Hockey Association pick off all time
Cholowski also made some history with his selection as one of the highest-ever picks from Langley.
Two years ago, Jake Virtanen went sixth overall to the Vancouver Canucks while five years ago, Mark McNeill went 18th overall to Chicago. Both those players began in the Langley Minor Hockey Association before moving away during their childhoods.
Shea Theodore was selected 26th overall in 2013 by Anaheim out of the Aldergrove Minor Hockey Association.
“It is a tremendous honour to be able to represent Langley,” Cholowski said.
“Being drafted so high, it is a huge honour for me and my family. We are very excited.”
Cholowski attended the draft’s second day as well, sitting with other Red Wings picks, before flying back to Langley on Saturday night.
The Red Wings management told him he needs to keep hitting the weight room and work on getting bigger and stronger as he continues his development.
He will attend Detroit’s prospects camp, which begins next week (July 5) but will attend St. Cloud State in the fall.
Cholowski does his off-ice training with his aunt, Carrie Light, who runs Training 4 Life, out of Walnut Grove.