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Top 25 Under 25, no. 5: Jared Cowen

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What's the deal with restricted free agency?

Phillip MacCallum

Jared Cowen started at #4 in our first top 25 under 25 rankings in 2012 and then fell to #5 this winter and that is where he finds himself again. Cowen had a solid rookie season in 2011/2012 playing all 82 games and averaging 18:53 of ice time (fifth highest) including 3:08 on the penalty kill (second highest). He was generally sheltered, playing the fifth toughest competition (Corsi Rel QoC of -0.288). Of the 5-on-5 face-offs that Cowen was on the ice for, 34% were in the offensive zone, 26% in the defensive zone and 39% in the neutral zone. Among the five regular defencemen, he had the third highest offensive zone start, fourth highest in the defensive zone and second highest in the neutral zone, although these numbers are very close to each other.

Given relatively easy even strength minutes as would be expected of a rookie, Cowen was a slightly negative possession player (Corsi Rel -2.5) but it should be noted that all of Ottawa's regular defencemen were in the negative except Erik Karlsson.

During the third NHL lockout, Cowen injured himself while playing in the AHL and was thought to be gone for the season. However, he returned for the last seven regular season games and struggled (Corsi Rel -6.3) in very sheltered minutes (40% offensive zone starts, 25% defensive zone starts, 35% neutral zone starts). This continued in the playoffs although it is likely that he wasn't fully healthy upon his return to the team.

What is the future for Cowen? He's had two serious injuries already in his career, although some would argue that shouldn't be cause for concern going forward. As of right now, Cowen is a restricted free agent and hasn't come to agreement with the Senators on a new deal. The Senators offered Cowen 8-years and $28 million at least two weeks ago and there are now under two weeks left until training camp starts.

Given the limited number of games Cowen has played in the NHL, eight years seems like an awfully long commitment. However if Cowen and Wiercioch struggle early on, it is possible that the Senators could move Cowen up to play with Karlsson and Methot down to play with Wiercioch. In that scenario a short term deal could end up costing the Senators a lot more in a future arbitration hearing given that Cowen would be likely to post an impressive plus/minus and even a fair number of points.

Among the club's regulars, Cowen could be the toughest player to guess in terms of what kind of player will he become. Is he going to become a good second pairing defenceman? Will he become a complementary piece to play with Karlsson? Could he become a dominant first pairing defenceman in his own right? Or is it possible that he fizzles out and becomes a buyout candidate in a few years? The last two scenarios are both rather unlikely, and the Senators feel he will be either a #2 or a #3 defenceman.

Given Filip Kuba was able to hang around on the top pairing, there is a very good chance that Cowen is able to keep up on the first pairing with Karlsson if that is what Paul MacLean chooses to do. In some ways, it might be more valuable for the Senators if Cowen is able to lead a second pairing rather than becoming a long term partner for Karlsson. If he isn't quite up to the task, he could also be a complementary piece on a pairing with Patrick Wiercioch or Cody Ceci in the future. There is a realistic possibility of Cowen being anything from a #2, #3, #4 or a #5 defenceman. Due to his lack of ability in moving the puck to date, I would bet more on the #2 or #4 side and being partnered with a player more able to transition from defence to offence.