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Cowen wants to earn an NHL job with Senators

by Jonas Siegel
LONDON, Ont. -- The Ottawa Senators want to see a snarl on the face of Jared Cowen.

Following the offseason departures of Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton, the Senators are looking for a new, gritty presence on the back end -- and they're hoping Cowen fits the bill.

"Just hard to play against," said Randy Lee, the team's director of player development and hockey administration, when asked what the Senators are looking for from Cowen. "Not a fighter, not a dirty player, but just be that physical guy back there and give us some sort of oomph and help replace that void left by those two guys.

"He's not supposed to replace those two players, but just fill the void a bit."

Consistently being that nasty, imposing presence, however, isn't something that comes naturally to the towering defenseman from Allan, Sask.

"I think I kind of take it for granted sometimes how big I am," said Cowen, who checks in at 6-5 and 222 pounds. "I don't use it sometimes, so it's something I've got to get used to, push other guys around, and use my body.

"I'm a big guy, so it's important to take advantage of my size."

The Senators are confident that Cowen, taken with the ninth pick in the 2009 Entry Draft, can make the adjustment.

"I think he can do it because he's not afraid at all and he likes to do it," Lee said. "He likes to carry the puck and move the puck, but we need him to have that edge a lot because we've got a lot of skill guys [on defense] when you add Sergei Gonchar and guys like that. We need somebody to be a real presence back there."

Earning a spot at training camp will be just the latest in a line of hurdles for the 19-year-old.

Cowen was playing for the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs in February 2009 when he  severely injured his right knee and underwent major reconstructive surgery -- a devastating blow for a top-10 prospect months before the 2009 draft. The Senators still took a shot with him.

Healthy enough to return the following season, Cowen earned a spot with Team Canada for the 2010 World Junior Championship. Canada came in second, settling for silver after an OT loss to the United States in the gold-medal game. But Cowen played little, as the seventh defensemen on Canada's depth chart. To top it all off, Cowen came down with a nasty bout of mononucleosis earlier this summer.

"It just felt like one thing after another kept going on," he said. "Somebody told me you can have mono for a long time, [a] couple months at the longest. I only had it for a month so I guess it wasn't that long, but it felt like I had it for a lot longer than that.

"Once I got over that little hump with the mono I felt a lot better, a lot more confident on the ice."

Maybe it's the increased confidence, but Cowen is making an impression at this week's rookie tournament in London.

"I can tell you that I'm impressed with him," said Kurt Kleinendorst, who's coaching the Senators' rookie squad and will be behind the bench for Ottawa's AHL farm team in Binghamton. "I think the one area I can see he needs obvious improvement -- where a lot of young defensemen need improvement -- would be his foot speed, his ability to turn and pivot and go with speed. But other than that, he does a lot of things well.

"He's the real deal. He's got a lot of good things going for him."

In 59 games with Spokane last season, Cowen scored 8 goals and added 22 assists. Lee believes there is "pretty good offensive upside" for the big defenseman -- more so than that of either the departed Volchenkov or Sutton. Ottawa inked Gonchar, an offensive wizard, to a three-year deal in the offseason, adding skill to a blue line that also includes Chris Phillips, Filip Kuba, Chris Campoli, Erik Karlsson and Matt Carkner, not to mention Brian Lee (23 games with the Senators last season) and fellow prospect Patrick Wiercioch.

The Senators must decide the best course of action for Cowen's development -- and their options are limited. If they feel he's not ready for the NHL this season, their only choice is to send Cowen, who played in one game with the Senators last season, back to junior hockey.

"He's the real deal. He's got a lot of good things going for him."
-- Kurt Kleinendorst

It's not the option he's hoping for.

"It would be a disappointment to go back, obviously," Cowen said of returning to Spokane. "This is where I think I can improve the most. If I went back to junior, it wouldn't be a step back -- but if I stayed here I'd obviously get a lot better, become a better player in a year. Going back to junior would be a familiar spot -- Spokane's a nice place to play, I love the guys on the team, love the coaching staff and everything -- but this is a step forward. This is where I want to stay."

"Now is as good a time as any. I feel great, had a good summer, so I think I've got a good chance going to camp, if not this year then next year. But hopefully this is the year."

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