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Cowen becoming workhorse on Senators blue line

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators rookie defenceman Jared Cowen has seen his workload increase in recent games, and easily played the most minutes of any Ottawa player during Wednesday night's game with the Boston Bruins. It's a situation the young blueliner is embracing (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

He's a young giant built for the long haul.

The Ottawa Senators are quickly beginning to appreciate the boundless youthful energy Jared Cowen brings to their blue line. More specifically, the minute muncher supreme they've got in the 20-year-old rookie, who packs 230 pounds onto a 6-5 frame.

Check the stats sheet from Wednesday's matchup against the Boston Bruins and you'll see Cowen logged 27:06 of ice time — nearly three minutes more than anyone else in the Senators lineup. It's been a growing trend in recent games, as Ottawa continues to play on without injured veterans Filip Kuba and Sergei Gonchar.

The added work is fine with Cowen, who quickly earned the nickname "mule" from Binghamton Senators head coach Kurt Kleinendorst last spring, when the native of Allan, Sask., routinely pushed the 30-minute mark in game duty after joining the B-Sens during their Calder Cup playoff run.

"I feel fine," Cowen said when asked about his added workload. "I feel way better than I did (playing) 17 minutes. I'm used to play that kind of minutes, so it's not like it's real taxing on me at all. When I'm out there on the ice, every other minute or so, I feel like I get a rhythm and I'm really in the game. Hopefully, I can keep up with that."

It also shows the growing confidence the Senators have in Cowen, their top pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, who figures to be a mainstay on their blue line for years to come.

"From the start of the year until now, I feel a lot better," he said. "I feel like I fit in, that I have my role or my niche here. I just feel more relaxed and I'm enjoying myself more in the games, and not worrying about my spot or how I'm playing or what the coaches are thinking. It's important to get out there and have fun instead of worrying about who's in or who's out (of the lineup)."

While Cowen came to the Senators billed as a shutdown defender, he's flashed signs of offence as his confidence grows. Case in point: the overtime winner he scored Tuesday night in Buffalo in a 3-2 triumph over the Sabres.

Then again, Cowen did notch 48 points in 58 games — including 18 goals — during his final season with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League a year ago.

"That's the type of player he is," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "He's going to be a guy who can move the puck well and can jump up in the rush occasionally. If you look at his junior numbers, he's scored goals and he can play. It just a confidence thing ... he feels comfortable doing that.

"I don't think he's a guy who feels like he's playing out of his realm. He's a guy who can play big minutes and will play big minutes throughout his whole career, and can add a little bit of offence. He's a big guy who can skate well. You look at (Buffalo's Tyler) Myers, you look at (Boston's Zdeno) Chara ... these guys do a big job of beating the backcheckers up the ice, and I think he can be that type of guy."

But as Cowen will quickly tell you, seeing is indeed believing.

"It's up to me to show it and produce that way (offensively)," he said. "But because I'm maybe better at the shutdown role, I just don't do it sometimes. But if I don't really show it, nobody knows, right?"

"Gonchar's out and Kuba's out, so I'm just trying to do what I can. I'm not really going out there and thinking offence. I'm just playing the game and reading situations."

While Kuba and Gonchar remain sidelined with upper-body injuries, both took part in practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. Senators head coach Paul MacLean said the former is ahead of Gonchar in the recovery process, but still listed Kuba as "doubtful" for Friday's matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

Around the boards

Senators forward Milan Michalek, who suffered a concussion when he ran head-on into teammate Erik Karlsson during Tuesday's game in Buffalo, is continuing to progress. The National Hockey League's leading goal scorer rode the bike today and MacLean called it "a good sign" in Michalek's recovery ... The Senators will wear their heritage jerseys for the fifth time they season when they face off against the Penguins ... Fewer than 500 tickets remain for Friday's game, including 150 in the Coke Zero Zone for only $25. 

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