Although only 19 years old, 6’5 blueliner Jared Cowen’s been making a huge impression on the Ottawa Senators’ brass — and with a strong performance in the recent Toronto Maple Leafs’ NHL rookie tournament in London, ON, he’s put injury concerns behind him and is making a run for an NHL roster.
With an apparently long-term injury to Senators’ blueliner Filip Kuba, the door has been opened a crack for the Senators’ 2009 first-round draft pick to burst through and stake a sizable claim on Ottawa’s blueline.
“My speed wasn’t what I experienced in the past, so I think when I got back to training camp I’ll have to get back to playing at that tempo,” Cowen explained. “Playing with better players can be easier because they can help you along the way, but the speed is something you have to get used to.”
Cowen is still working his way back from a serious knee injury that prematurely ended his second full junior campaign in 2007-08. Damaging both the ACL and MCL, the Senators’ ninth-overall selection underwent surgery and the blueliner admitted that it’s now finally starting to feel the way he wants.
“I feel a little more confident. Thinking back even to the end of last season, I really wasn’t feeling all that well,” he said. “Where it is now, I feel like I’m back to where I was before and it’s given me a lot more confidence. Obviously I’m feeling a lot better and I think it’s just getting back to timing and balance during games.
The big blueliner participated in Canada’s National Junior Team development camp in early August and is expected to be a big part of the squad — if he’s not beholden to an NHL roster at the time. As a member of Team Canada’s silver-medal-winning squad last year, and benefitting from the training camp experience with that club, Cowen is able to draw a parallel to the quality of play during these rookie tournaments.
“This is pretty close to junior camp,” Cowen explained. “World Juniors is more about systems so it’s very hard to compare. We came out here and in two days’ time you’re out on the ice. It was fast hockey, good play out there, but it was a little hard because we didn’t get to know each other too well.”
Steve Stirling, the Birmingham Senators’ new assistant coach and member of the coaching contingent for Ottawa’s rookie camp, said he was pleased with finally seeing the big blueliner play in person — and with what he saw.
“He’s a horse. He’s a first-round pick, and being that big, that strong — I’m guessing that’s what he’s going to be,” Stirling said. “A kid like that, he played not bad, played a little better the next game, then in game three he played a ton. He played in critical situations late in the game.
“He’ll go into the big camp with a little more experience, be a little more confident, and not be as nervous.”
Stirling added that what Cowen brought to the rookie tournament is what he’ll need to show at the main camp — and he must bring some lessons learned from this initial experience.
“He just needs experience and he’s going to get it in the big camp,” Stirling explained. “I mean, it’s purely speculation because I’m new to the organization and I’m still getting a feel for the kids myself, but I think you probably saw the real Jared Cowen at this tournament.
“That’s a big, strong kid that didn’t get rattled under pressure. I bet he played about 25 minutes a game and handled it real well — he was strong down low. That’s a big, strong kid that’s just got to get some playing experience and he’ll probably get a game or two with the big club in pre-season and that willl be the next big test for him.
Cowen, who rebounded nicely last year with eight goals and 22 assists in 59 games with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL and appeared in one NHL game, said he’s looking forward to the experience of main camp and said that his rookie tournament experience has been invaluable.
“I think the first thing was that it was nice to get back on the ice and get into a game situation,” he said. “Since I came up to Ottawa it’s been a bunch of scrimmages and training, so it’s nice to get back into form — it’s never quite how you remember it.
“It’s nice to get back, I feel good, and I hope to carry this over into main camp.”