|Defenceman Jared Cowen made his NHL debut back on April 8 against the Lightning in Tampa, Fla. He hopes to earn himself a more regular home on the Senators blue line starting with the team's training camp next week (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images).
He's a big man shouldering perhaps even bigger expectations.
But if it's like everything else that has been thrown in his way over the last 18 months, expect Jared Cowen
to take it as it comes and make the best of it.
All eyes will surely be on the Senators' top pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft starting Saturday, when a number of Ottawa's best prospects hit the ice for their annual rookie tournament at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ont.
The Sens face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins prospects tomorrow before tangling with the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (both 2 p.m., Rogers Television, Team 1200). They'll wrap it up against the host Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday (7 p.m., Rogers TV, Team 1200).
If there is a big story — literally and figuratively — at the tournament, it's the 6-5, 228-pound Cowen, who is expected to challenge for a job with the Senators when main camp opens on Sept. 17 at Scotiabank Place. The 19-year-old from Saskatoon is ready to tackle the intense glare that will no doubt go along with all of that.
"I've been preparing for that all summer," Cowen said at the Bell Sensplex, where the Senators rookies practised earlier today before making their way to London. "It's not like it's a big shock to me right now. At the same time, there is pressure, but it's just something you have to learn to deal with."
That being said, Cowen is approaching everything that is about to unfold this month with one goal in mind; to show team management that he can fill the void left behind when Anton Volchenkov, a physical presence on the Senators blue line, was lost to the New Jersey Devils in free agency.
"The rookie tournament, for me, is just to get a good feel for myself, get back on my skates and get as close as possible to mid-season form," he said. "After that, it's (about) main camp and making the team. I know exactly what I want to do."
Given what he's been through already, Cowen is also happy to say he is taking on this next challenge in optimal health. A year ago, he couldn't participate in the rookie tournament because he was still "on the tip of coming back" from major reconstructive knee surgery in February 2009. There was another minor setback two months ago, when a bout of mononucleosis prevented Cowen from displaying his wares at Hockey Canada's summer junior evaluation camp in St. John's.
"When the knee (injury) happened ... that was my first big injury, so I just kind of rolled with it," said Cowen. "Then the mono came and I was like 'this kind of sucks, too.' Hopefully, next summer is going to be good with no injuries and no setbacks. It's been kind of a string of bad luck."
But all of that will seem like ancient history if Cowen, sporting a new No. 2 jersey (he previously wore 48), finds himself in the lineup when the Senators play their 2010-11 season-opener Oct. 8 against the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Place. He promises it'll be a different experience than back on April 8, when Cowen made his National Hockey League debut against the Lightning in Tampa, Fla.
"I was a little nervous," he said. "But I'm glad I've got one under my belt now, so the next one won't be so bad. I think I already feel better than I did in that game, so that gives me a lot of confidence. I was still not 100 per cent (healthy) last season, so the next game I'll feel a lot better."