OSHAWA, ON --
Ottawa's giant defensemen of past, present and future: Zdeno Chara
, Chris Phillips
and ... Jared Cowen
"He's certainly looks like he's ready," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said Friday morning.
Ottawa's collection of 23 young hopefuls skated one final time at home before leaving for the Oshawa rookie tournament, which begins Saturday. Southern Ontario is where Cowen hopes to launch his final march towards a permanent spot on the squad.
But if the 6-foot-5, 228-pound defenseman is feeling any pressure about living up to names like Chara and Phillips, he certainly won't admit it.
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"No, not at all," Cowen said. "I think I just keep doing what I'm doing and hopefully I'll get to be like them one day. (Chara and Phillips) are pretty good players to compare myself to -- if I have the same expectations that they have for themselves, that will be OK."
Cowen certainly exceeded expectations for Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst
. The 20-year-old joined the American Hockey League team during their Calder Cup playoff run last season, after his Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League were knocked out in the second round. Cowen contributed four assists in 10 games, and helped the team to a Calder Cup victory.
"He doesn't ever hurt you," Kleinendorst said. "He has the ability to play with the puck, but his strength is probably away (from the puck). He's so intelligent. He's a man – a young man – but he's a man. He's a solid, strong hockey player who won't get pushed around."
The Binghamton coach also noted how quickly Cowen adapted to his new surroundings with an AHL team in the middle of playoff run.
"He was ready for it," Kleinendorst said. "In fact, he could have taken minutes in the NHL. That's where he's at right now. He's awfully close and now it's just a matter of what makes sense for (Ottawa) and indeed, what makes sense for Jared."
Murray has continued to monitor Cowen's progress since drafting him with the ninth pick in the first round of the 2009 Entry Draft. He appreciates the work Cowen has put in, and all that he has accomplished thus far.
"He's been through different stages of development going back to junior," Murray said. "When we drafted him, he came off a knee injury and it takes a lot of time to get back to 100%. Being a good player for Team Canada (at the world junior championship), being a good player in junior and then playing in Binghamton, gave him a chance to play a lot of games and important games to develop."
Cowen himself has seen and felt the improvements to his game, bolstering his belief that he is ready for the big time.
"I think I'm smoother and a better skater," he said. "I feel like I'm stronger on my skates, which is a big deal with you're out there with bigger guys and they're trying to push you around."
Ottawa still features veterans Filip Kuba
, Sergei Gonchar
and Matt Carkner
, but Murray isn't willing to shut the door on his rookie talent. Cowan hopes to join Erik Karlsson
as part of the future of the team's defense corps, as do other prospects David Rundblad
and Patrick Wiercioch
"I think we'll look at what has to be done if some of these guys are ready to play," Murray said. "It's up to me to create a spot for them and that may mean we have to do something."
Meanwhile, Cowen remains determined to show the team staff something special in Oshawa. He believes that he's strong enough to move on, and is preparing to lace up his skates alongside the rest of the Senators.
"Rookie camps are a good warm-up for me, but I think I'm ready for the next level," he said.