Though he may only be 24-years-old, it's been a long time coming for Jared Cowen to blossom into the strong, shut-down defenseman that Senators' management promised the hockey world would envy.
We've waited. Quite patiently.
And not that the towering Saskatoon native can only be to blame for his lack of growth as a trusted player in the organization; he was definitely rushed.
At the age of 19, Cowen played his first game with the Senators, and by age 20, he had completed his first full 82-game season. Now, after appearing in well over 200 NHL games, Cowen's only stint in the AHL was in the 2012-13 season when he was sent down for just three games. His development was hurried, and now the team is paying for it.
But they're also choosing to wallow in their mistakes.
On Saturday at noon, Ottawa traded Eric Gryba to the Edmonton Oilers for a pick and a prospect. Many thought the desire to open up a spot on the blueline was in place so pending UFA Chris Wideman could be brought onto the roster, but Bryan Murray made it clear he finds it equally important to give Cowen a more substantial role with Gryba's departure.
"I believe he will be a real good defenseman in the League. I think opening the door for him to get that spot was a big part of [the Gryba trade]." - Bryan Murray. NHL.com.
But it wasn't just a vote of confidence from the Senators' general manager. Murray absolutely insists Cowen's usage increases.
"Dave’s going to let him, or he’s going to have to let him now get on the ice and be more of a role guy on the team. But the coaches only do so much for you. You have to accept the role that they give you. He has to come back to camp this year understanding that 'I am what I am,' and that’s a big, strong guy that can play defense." - Bryan Murray. NHL.com.
Dave Cameron made some intelligent decisions last season, but the one that stuck out the most was his handling of the defense corps. He embraced the convincing performances by Patrick Wiercioch, really recognized the importance of Erik Karlsson and for the most part, identified the weak spots and populated the press box with them.
Playing a diminished number of games in the regular season and missing out on an entire playoff series was Cowen. And rightfully so.
It may have only been because of the recent unacceptable play from Cowen - and either way, the coach's actions were warranted - but perhaps Cameron had realized the lengthy decline we've been witnessing the past few years.
*Note that the graph below does not include the 2012-13 season because Cowen only played seven games.*
In those three seasons - in which Cowen played an average of 68 games - his relative possession stats (Corsi, Fenwick and shots for) were all negative. So even in his most impressive season, he was still below the team average.
While maybe a bit stubborn, Murray isn't delusional. He knows the kind of player Cowen is limited to with his particular attributes.
"I think Jared wants to be more than he is. I think he thinks he can be an offensive player, when really he can bring a little bit of offense, but we want him to be the big, strong, defensive player that uses his stick, uses his body and helps us win just based on doing that." - Bryan Murray. NHL.com.
Almost two years have passed since Murray and company dodged a bullet when Cowen turned down an eight-year deal worth $28 million. But the daunting notion is that they probably don't feel the same way.
Their current "win now" attitude conflicts with the persistent pride they hold for their ninth selection in the 2009 Draft. Incapable of moving on, the Senators only hope is for Cowen to drastically improve. He's in too much of a dependent role now for Cameron to simply manoeuvre around.
Is there time for the 6'5" giant to develop and thrive in Ottawa? Yes, of course. But the unlikelihood is increasing each and every year.
For many cases of players who seem to progress rather slowly, patience can be extremely rewarding. But with Cowen, it's becoming much too probable that management's patience could be their downfall.
And maybe it already is.