On Friday, December 10th, Ryan and I had the opportunity to watch Senators prospect Jared Cowen play against the Vancouver Giants.Cowen, of course, was drafted 9th overall by the Senators in 2009. After he failed to crack the big squad this year out of training camp, he was returned to the WHL where he has been having a stellar season with his Spokane Chiefs. Cowen has 8 goals, 13 assists and 21 points in 26 games. Those 8 goals have him already tied with his career-high he had last season. He's also a team high plus-14.
The first thing one notices about Cowen is that his size. He simply towered over other kids on the ice, and uses his size effectively. He used his reach to retrieve pucks, and knocked the other players down whenever he wanted the puck (which was all the time). It was funny watching forwards attempt to bodycheck Cowen because they simply bounced off of him. It wasn't that he was hitting them back, it was simply that he was so big and sturdy that players could not knock him off his feet.
Another thing about Cowen's play is that he eats up a huge amount of minutes, and does so in all situations. In the first period alone, Cowen must have played 12 or 13 minutes. He was being double-, perhaps triple-shifted out there. Ryan and I were joking about the situations in which the coach decided Cowen needed to be on the ice:
- If the period was starting.
- If the period was ending.
- If it was a Chiefs powerplay.
- If it was a Chiefs penalty kill.
- If it was an offensive zone face-off.
- If it was a defensive zone face-off.
- If the other team's top line was out.
- If the other team's top line wasn't out.
I'm not really exaggerating. He started and ended each period, penalty kill, and powerplay. His powerplay abilities were particularly impressive and something neither Ryan nor I anticipated. He completely runs the team's powerplay -- he carries it from the team's own zone and starts the play, and the team constantly defers to him, feeds him the puck and lets him determine the play. Cowen illustrated far better poise with the puck than I had imagined (I pictured Anton Volchenkov skills, for some reason). He had some nice wrist shots, a couple of great slap passes, and a beautiful one timer on the powerplay that went top corner for the tying-goal.
Cowen is also the team's captain, and it was evident why. Not only does he eat up a lot of minutes, but he is leading his team the entire time he's on the ice. Similar to what you see Chris Phillips and other veteran defenders do, Cowen is constantly yelling, pointing, and helping direct his team as he sees fit.
Defensively, Cowen comes as advertised. He was relied on heavily in his own zone, and was impressive in shutting down Giants stars Craig Cunningham and Brendan Gallagher. Cowen's greatest strength in his own zone was his ability to always come out with the puck. If there was ever a scrum, Cowen would calmly skate to it, get the puck out of the crowd of people, and then start the team's breakout. He also showed some shot-blocking skill, although one he took in overtime looked as though it stung him as he immediately went off. However, within 45 seconds he was calling to get back on the ice.
By the end of the game, both Ryan and I were convinced that he was the best skater on the ice for the night, but couldn't help wondering if this perception was because we are Sens fans who were paying more attention to Cowen than the rest of the game. However, at the end of the game, our opinion was confirmed as Cowen was named second star of the game (losing out only to the Giants' goalie, Mark Segal, who made 43 saves on 45 shots through 65 minutes).
I know a lot of fans were disappointed that Cowen could not stay in the NHL or go to the AHL this season.. And although it would be helpful for Cowen to start playing some more men his size and a higher level of competition, staying in the WHL is certainly helping him develop into a more well-rounded player, and may have been the best thing to happen to him. He is playing huge amounts of minutes, in all situations, and getting to really work on his puck handling skills -- something that would not have happened in the AHL or NHL.
This was Cowen's last game in the WHL before heading to Hockey Canada's World Junior Selection Camp. If his game against the Giants is any indication, I fully expect him to not only make the team once again, but to have a fairly significant role on it.