While the Senators organization has tended to emphasize prospects from Europe, especially Sweden over the last few years, as well as the NCAA route, they continue to ensure players from the junior leagues are part of their pool of prospects. Ottawa has a potential stud defenseman and two intriguing wingers playing junior hockey in the CHL this season. Historically they’ve had prospects developing in all three major junior leagues; right now two are in the WHL and one in the QMJHL.
Jared Cowen, D, Spokane Chiefs
Acquired: 1st round (9th overall) in 2009
Jan. 25, 1991. Ht: 6’5, Wt: 228 lbs.
As the Spokane Chiefs captain, Cowen has had a good start to his final junior season and impacts most games with some dominant shifts. With outstanding size and good all-around instincts for his position, he moves very well for a big player and has a good offensive upside. In the defensive zone he plays a strong and physical game and eats up big minutes. Capable of making nice stretch passes, the puck seems to follow him around at times which allows him to make plays and dictate the flow of the game with his outstanding combination of speed/size. Playing the point on the power-play in Spokane gives him the opportunity to develop his point shot and puck-handling at the line. A well-spoken, mature teenager who’s destined for the NHL possibly as early as next year, he needs to continue to work on his puck-handling in the transition game, making quick decisions – when to pinch/back off – and making life more miserable for opposing forwards.
So far this season in Spokane he has three goals, and 11 assists with 30 penalty minutes over his first 18 games while leading his team in plus/minus and should finish around 50 points and over 100 penalty minutes at his current pace. Although feeling he was mistakenly returned to junior at the beginning of the season, this organizational decision offers him the opportunity to truly dominate and take on a bigger role is all situations under the tutelage of Don Nachbaur, who ironically was the Binghamton head coach last year. Recently his leadership and all-round skills were showcased in Kamloops playing for Team WHL versus Team Russia in the Subway Super Series where he contributed two assists, one coming on an outstanding speed rush down the wing and a cross-ice tape-pass for a tap-in goal. Be prepared for this future Senator to take on a larger role with Team Canada this year at the World Juniors in Buffalo and determine how good his game is relative to the best under 20-year-olds not yet playing in the NHL.
Cowen has been rewarding the Senators’ patience so far for their perceived risky decision to draft him ninth overall – after his knee ligament injury in 2009 – as he continues to ready himself for a future spot on the Ottawa blue-line.
Mark Stone, RW, Brandon Wheat Kings
Acquired: 6th round (178th overall) in 2010
May 13, 1992. Ht: 6’3, Wt: 200 lbs.
Playing on one of the two Brandon Wheat King scoring lines this year has given Stone the opportunity to demonstrate his good hands, good shot, and ability around the net. Now in his third WHL campaign and with Scott Glennie (DAL) or Shayne Wiebe as his center, the right-winger is strong on the puck and will go to the front of the net to capitalize on scoring chances. Playing with an abrasive style, he draws penalties and wins battles on the boards and creates opportunities in the dirty areas. So far this season has also offered him more power-play minutes and he’s taken advantage with increased point production. This late round pick has grown both in size and strength which coupled with his determination has allowed him to hold up well, often excelling, against the opposition’s top defensive pairing many games. In order to round his game and become a complete player he needs to improve his foot-speed and become at least an average skater. Improved skating will allow him to have a greater effectiveness forechecking, enable him to create more scoring chances and assist in the progression of his back-check, really making him a complete player.
As one of only three returning players among the Wheat King’s top ten scorers from last season, Stone was counted on for a marked improvement in his scoring totals and hasn’t disappointed. Currently he’s in 12th place overall in the league and leading the Wheat Kings with 14 goals, 18 assists after 25 games. It will be interesting to see how his leadership role develops this season and whether his game changes should the Los Angeles Kings return Brayden Schenn to Brandon.
The Senators have to be pleased with the power forward development of Stone and his increase in production this year. Both he and the organization will be elated if next season brings him to a junior all-star level and national junior team consideration. At this point his skating is what appears to be holding him back from being a bona fide NHL prospect for Ottawa.
Jakub Culek, LW, Rimouski Océanic
Acquired: 3rd round (76th overall) in 2010
Sept. 7, 1992. Ht: 6’4, Wt: 195 lbs.
The first pick for the Ottawa Senators in the 2010 Draft, Culek’s second season in Rimouski has been a struggle as he, along with his junior team, have undergone a horrible slump which they’ve started to work through. The Czech native presents an imposing figure and is still learning how to effectively use his frame to his advantage. Great vision, good speed and an accurate shot offer him the ability to add to his scoring totals. While the left winger has already proven to be dependable at both ends of the ice, he has also improved his skating and mobility. If he can harness his physical tools and continue to get stronger and faster, he has all the makings of a player who could dominate.
While his stat line reads four goals and seven assists in 22 games this season, Culek has returned to his point-per-game pace now and continues to work hard to make plays. Another promising sign was taking courses to improve his English which is getting much better and aiding his transition to North America. With his linemate and fellow Czech Petr Straka out for one month with a broken thumb, this playmaker and the vaunted Océanic forwards will need to find the right chemistry to collectively turn their season around. At this point we will likely not see him playing for Team Czech Republic at the World Juniors with that country’s team comprised mainly of players developing in their home leagues.
The next two years will determine much of what Culek can offer the Senators organization long-term. As is often the case with prospects this age, their determination is the key in their development and making it to the next level.
Article was written by John Henkelman.