As good as the 2007-08 season was for Spokane Chiefs defenseman Jared Cowen
, the 2008-09 season was disappointing.
Entering his draft year looking to build off his strong play en route to the Chiefs' Memorial Cup victory -- he scored Spokane's final goal in the title game -- Cowen started slow and never really finished, as a major knee injury suffered in a Jan. 30 game against Chilliwack ended his season.
"Me and another guy were chasing for the puck, it was right along the boards, I hit him shoulder to shoulder and we kind of stood still a little bit, then he fell backwards," Cowen told NHL.com. "My right leg was underneath him. His entire body weight went on the outside of my knee and it caved in and dragged me down, and I could feel my ACL and MCL snap. At the time I didn't realize what it was; (I) thought it was just bones popping out. Pretty painful, and I knew something wasn't right."
What wasn't right was two torn ligaments that required reconstructive knee surgery, ending his season after just 48 games. He finished with 7 goals and 21 points, but more was expected from a player who started the season thought of as a sure-fire top-five pick, maybe even top-three.
"Everyone came in thinking that he was going to dominate from start to finish," NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire told NHL.com. "When he didn't in the first couple of weeks, scouts were saying what's wrong with Jared Cowen
. He began to get better as the year went on, and then the injury cut that year short."
Cowen was the first pick of the 2006 WHL bantam draft, and last season, his first in the WHL, he had 4 goals, 18 points and led the league's rookie defenseman with a plus-27 rating.
He was the top-rated player in the WHL when the Central Scouting released its preliminary rankings in November, but slipped to No. 7 in the midterm report in January and No. 9 in the final rankings in April.
If you think that bothers Cowen, think again.
"All the players that were put in front of me, I was better than them," Cowen told NHL.com. "I kind of took it personal. I saw the players put in front of me and I knew I was better, so I wasn't too worried about it. I knew I could play better than them at a higher league anyway."
Cowen said the scouts shouldn't be overly worried about him. And if they need any refreshers, Cowen said all they have to do is go to the videotape.
"Maybe it would have been nice to see if he could have turned his game up a couple notches again in the playoffs," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com, "but we saw that last year in the Memorial Cup run. I think that was a pretty good indicator of what he's going to be like."
Cowen isn't concerned about the injury leaving a bad taste for NHL scouts.
"I hope I made an impression on them when I was still playing, so I'm not too worried about it," he said. "They can always refer back to games to see before or tapes they have. They know what kind of player I am, they've seen me before. They know my style and what I'm like."
What he's like is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound hitting machine who can play as nasty as you want. But don't pigeon-hole him as strictly a defensive defenseman.
"All the players that were put in front of me, I was better than them. I kind of took it personal. I saw the players put in front of me and I knew I was better, so I wasn't too worried about it. I knew I could play better than them at a higher league anyway." -- Jared Cowen
"I'm a stay-at-home guy, but I think when you say it that way people see you as a one-dimensional type of player," he said. "I think there's another side that people don't know about. I don't use it too much because it's not my role or my place in things, but the offensive side of the game sometimes is the best part. Scoring goals, there's nothing more fun than that. I'm working on that because it's not my strongest point. No one likes a weak part to their game, so I'm working on it. It'll get better. I'm not worried about it. I've got skills there, so they'll develop over time."
Cowen said he expects to be back on the ice by the middle of June, with the expectation that he would be ready for Chiefs camp in August and NHL training camp in September.
"He's going to be a top defenseman in the National Hockey League," MacDonald said of Cowen. "Might take him a couple years to get used to the quicker speeds, but I think he's going to be a big, reliable guy back there for a couple years."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.