Senators Alphabet: J is for Jared

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 19: Joe Pavelski #8 of the San Jose Sharks and Jared Cowen #2 of the Ottawa Senators collide during their third period of their game at HP Pavilion at San Jose on January 19, 2012 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

J is for Jared, as in Jared Cowen, Ottawa's towering rookie defenseman. Drafted in the first round (ninth overall) by the Senators three years ago, the 21-year-old has quickly become a staple on Ottawa's blue line. Cowen started the season strong, playing more minutes as his responsibilities increased. Despite slumping somewhat this winter, Cowen's play the last few weeks has seen him return to his early season form.

In February, Sens fans were fortunate to witness Chris Phillips' memorable 1000th game performance and subsequent commemoration. While those moments were great for Phillips, for the club, and for fans, it brought into focus the fact that Phillips' career will be drawing to a close in the coming years. In that context, Jared Cowen seems like a natural successor to Phillips as the premier shutdown defenseman on Ottawa's blue line for years to come. But it does leave Sens fans with the question: moving forward, what level of play can we expect from Cowen?

Cowen and Phillips stack up nicely against each other. Both are former first round picks and WHL products. Both are big, defensive d-men, capable of playing a physical game but don't rely on the big hit to provide their value. As Cowen is only in his first NHL season, his statistical sample is small, so I'll start by looking at their junior careers.

First, Jared Cowen's stats with the Spokane Chiefs:

JARED COWEN








YEAR

AGE


TEAM

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

2006-07

16


Spokane Chiefs

6

0

2

2

2

2007-08

17


Spokane Chiefs

68

4

14

18

62

2008-09

18


Spokane Chiefs

48

7

14

21

45

2009-10

19


Spokane Chiefs

59

8

22

30

74

2010-11

20


Spokane Chiefs

58

18

30

48

91

Now, a look at Chris Phillips' junior career:

CHRIS PHILLIPS








YEAR

AGE


TEAM

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

1995-96

17


Prince Albert Raiders

61

10

30

40

97

1996-97

18


Prince Albert/Lethbridge

58

7

41

48

86

What's noticeable? Phillips' success in junior came quicker and was part of why he became an NHL regular as a teenager and Cowen spent another two full seasons in junior. It should also be noted that the knee injury Cowen suffered hampered his development in the 2008-09. Still, their development was similar. In their best and final seasons in junior, they both managed 48 points and over 85 PIMs. While Cowen was two years older in his final season, he managed to score 18 goals, including 7 power play markers, suggesting that maybe he will have slightly more offensive upside than Phillips.

Cowen and Phillips had significant playoff/tournament experience before making the NHL. Both played in two World Juniors for Canada and while their point totals from the WJC are unremarkable, both played important roles for their country. After being used as a seventh defenseman in the 2010 tournament, Cowen was an alternate captain for the 2011 team, capturing his second silver medal. Phillips captured a gold medal as part of Canada's 1996 WJC team and added a second in 1997, when he was named to the tournament all-star team. In 1996-97, Phillips was a beast in the WHL playoffs, scoring 4 goals and 21 assists for 25 points in 19 games. This was good enough for second in team scoring and helped Lethbridge get to the Memorial Cup tournament, where Phillips was a point-a-game player in his team's second-place finish. Cowen scored the Memorial Cup-clinching goal when the Chiefs won in 2007-08 before taking part in Binghamton's Cup run in the AHL last season. They played in the same league, in the same competitions, and had similar results in their development.

However, if we want to understand if Jared Cowen can mature into an elite shutdown defenseman in the NHL, we need to compare his defensive stats this year with the stats of some of the NHL's best known shutdown defensemen. In this chart, I'll examine TOI/G (average time on ice per game), SH TOI/G (average short-handed time on ice per game), TkA (takeaways), GvA (giveaways), BkS (blocked shots), Hits, +/-, and Corsi Rel QoC (weighted relative Corsi Number of player's opponent) - basically, all of the stats that are apparently vital to Norris Trophy contention in this league.

2011-12 SEASON



PLAYER







COWEN

PHILLIPS

WEBER

SEABROOK

GIRARDI

KRONWALL

CHARA










AGE


21

34

26

26

27

31

34

TkA


23

15

46

28

32

21

20

GvA


27

47

40

45

56

24

58

BkS


71

120

114

146

155

155

74

Hits


182

112

151

164

175

113

135

Plus/Minus


-1

5

18

11

14

1

27

SH TOI/G


3:15

3:02

2:23

2:34

3:21

2:58

2:45

TOI/G


19:23

18:46

26:23

24:15

26:39

22:40

25:03

Corsi Rel QoC


-0.337

-0.072

1.497

1.582

1.608

0.637

1.063

What does this tell us? While Cowen is obviously not an elite shutdown defenseman yet, he is holding his own with a group of pretty good rearguards. It also shows that Zdeno Chara doesn't do the things we think great shutdown d-men do (takeaways, blocks) with the frequency many assume he does. We can justify high giveaway numbers from offensive-minded defensemen, but Chara's not rushing with the puck like Karlsson, and his giveaways seem high and takeaways low. We also see a marked decline in Phillips' status (which we knew already), and that Dan Girardi dominates several categories which indicate he also dominates on the ice. I was surprised by a couple of Cowen's stats. With the exception of Girardi (who plays shorthanded an average of six seconds more a game), Cowen plays significantly more shorthanded minutes per game than his opponents in this group. Cowen may not play against the other team's best players for most of the game (the way Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara and company are matched up throughout a game), but he is on the ice a lot when the opponents' goal scorers have the man advantage. I was also surprised that Cowen led this group in hits. Cowen is big, strong, and capable of physical play, but when I watch him it always seems that he uses his size to gain position rather than to punish opponents physically, but apparently he does both.

It's important to note that Weber, Brent Seabrook, Girardi, Niklas Kronwall, and Chara play significant minutes with good, defensively responsible partners and that Cowen often plays with Sergei Gonchar. It is also important to keep in mind that Weber, Seabrook, Girardi, and Kronwall are all entering or in their prime, and Chara is still in the vicinity of his best seasons.

Cowen's a rookie. How does he stack up against the totals these other defensemen collected during their rookie years?

FIRST FULL SEASON (40+ GAMES)

PLAYER





COWEN

WEBER

SEABROOK

GIRARDI

KRONWALL








YEAR


2011-12

2006-07

2005-06

2007-08

2006-07

AGE


21

21

20

23

26

TkA


23

27

31

51

24

GvA


27

39

58

43

60

BkS


71

77

119

123

99

Hits


182

165

62

179

92

Plus/Minus


-1

13

5

0

0

SH TOI/G


3:15

0:55

2:31

2:32

1:39

TOI/G


19:23

19:23

20:01

21:11

20:39

Corsi Rel QoC


-0.337

N/A

N/A

0.518

N/A

I haven't included Phillips and Chara in this table because they are so old, no one recorded advanced stats for the first part of their careers. I've only included Cowen and Girardi's Corsi Rel QoC because behindthenet.ca doesn't have corsi stats before 2007-08 and I was too lazy to do anything about it. Again, Girardi is quite dominant. But Cowen's season looks more impressive in this context. He has considerably less giveaways than the other players on this list and his takeaways aren't that far behind Weber, Seabrook, and Kronwall. His blocked shots remain low, but the totals of the other four are also considerably lower than their current totals in that category. The stat I'm most impressed with? Cowen's 3:15 SH TOI/G. That's almost 45 seconds more than Seabrook and Girardi and almost two and a half minutes more than Norris candidate and shutdown defenseman Shea Weber. Rookie defensemen, even those with great promise, generally aren't given the kind of responsibility Cowen has been given this season.

Ultimately, what these tables suggest is that Cowen is on the right track to becoming an excellent shutdown defenseman. We've already seen he can log big minutes in a game and we can expect those minutes to increase against the opponents' top players in the near future.

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