|Defenceman Jared Cowen has been a standout for the Senators during the first two games of rookie tournament play in London, Ont. He'll next head to main camp with the team (Claus Andersen/Getty Images).
Kurt Kleinendorst knows full well it won't end up being his call.
But count the Binghamton Senators coach among those impressed by the efforts of top defence prospect Jared Cowen
during the rookie tournament being held at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ont. Cowen and fellow blueliner Patrick Wiercioch
are considered the best bets to make an impression when Senators main camp opens Friday at Scotiabank Place.
While Senators general manager Bryan Murray will ultimately be the one to decide if either — or both — of the young defence duo is ready for prime time, Kleinendorst offered a positive endorsement of Cowen's play in the Senators' opening two games at the rookie tournament.
"I can tell you that I'm most impressed with him," the B-Sens coach said during an off day for the Sens rookies at the London tournament. "When you watch him play and you watch our blue line, he is the one guy that jumps out at you. He's probably the closest to being ready (for the National Hockey League). But is he ready? He's a young kid."
Cowen certainly makes it clear that he plans to take his best shot at earning a roster spot. As a 19-year-old, Cowen has only two options for the coming season — play in the NHL for the Senators or head back to his junior team, the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs.
"I think now is as good a time as any," Cowen said when asked about his chances of staying in Ottawa. "I feel great, I had a good summer and I think I've got a good chance going to camp. If not this year, then next year, but hopefully this is the year."
Kleinendorst also sees a player with the necessary confidence to make that kind of challenge.
"To be quite honest with you, I never would have labelled him (as someone) lacking confidence," he said of Cowen, who captained the Chiefs last season. "I watch him in practice, I watch him on game nights and I see a lot of confidence. He's the kind of kid that, when you've got 30 seconds left in the period, he's the one you want on the ice, and I think we've shown him that.
"Between the ears, he's very comfortable with where he is right now."
Wiercioch, meanwhile, left the University of Denver after two seasons to chase his NHL dream. The Senators do have the option of sending him to Binghamton for some seasoning in the American Hockey League, but the 20-year-old Wiercioch plans to do his level best to stay with the big club. Even if he knows there are seven Senators defencemen with NHL experience currently standing in his way.
"I'm not looking at the depth charts," he said. "If I was that concerned about it, I probably wouldn't have left school right away. It looked like there was a lot bigger opening last spring than it does this fall. But hopefully, I'm competing for a spot, and they'll see that I'm here to make it."
The Sens close out rookie tourney action Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m., Rogers TV, Team 1200). A live web stream of the game will be available on a one-hour delay at www.mapleleafs.com.