Bringing 6-foot-5 Jared Cowen
into the picture pretty much assures that.
For the second straight year, the Senators added a future building block on the blue line with their top pick in the NHL Entry Draft. In 2008, it was Erik Karlsson
, a diminutive but highly skilled offensive talent. This time, the Senators added the biggest shutdown guy in the draft, landing a player some scouts compare favourably to Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins.
"Being big in the NHL is important," Senators general manager Bryan Murray told TSN after making the ninth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at the Bell Centre in Montreal. "Having size on your team is critical, and now we've got a big defender who plays a lot of minutes and will certainly be hard to play against.
"This is the type of player that gives you a chance (to win) every night."
Solid, reliable ... that's the kind of presence Cowen expects to bring to the Ottawa blue line when he eventually makes it to the National Hockey League.
"I think I bring reliability," said the 18-year-old from Allan, Sask. "I think I do everything well. I’m a big, strong guy and I use that effectively. I’m a real word hard worker. That’s something everybody says and I really put that forth in games."
Murray also sees a player who will help maintain continuity on defence.
"As our more defensive guys get older and possibly move on, in the near future we think we have a bright young guy coming here that will be a solid player for a long time in Ottawa," he said.
"We’re happy that he was available. I’d heard that another team was going to take him a little earlier but it didn’t happen, so we did get him."
Coming into this season, nobody would have guessed Cowen would have lasted nine picks into the first round of this draft. He'd played a major role in helping the Spokane Chiefs claim the Memorial Cup in 2008, scoring the empty-net goal that clinched the championship game victory over the host Kitchener Rangers.
But a season-ending knee injury in January cut his 2008-09 season short at 48 games and also affected his rating in scouts' eyes. NHL Central Scouting ranked Cowen ninth among North American skaters in its final rankings, though The Hockey News
had him fourth overall.
The wait for Cowen was nerve-wracking, to say the least.
"I think I bring reliability. I think I do everything well. I’m a big, strong guy and I use that effectively. I’m a real word hard worker. That’s something everybody says and I really put that forth in games." - Jared Cowen
"It’s hard to describe," he said. "You’re sitting there for seven or eight picks there and your heart is just pounding. It feels like you’re working out with all the blood going through your body but it feels great.
"It’s nice. I get to go to a Canadian team, so I guess (the knee injury) was a blessing in disguise. I’ve always wanted to play for a Canadian team so it’s going to be great."
Cowen said his knee isn't 100 per cent yet "but it will be. That's the plan." Ottawa's medical staff spent half an hour examining him on Thursday and came away convinced the injury won't be an issue going forward.
"The knee is progressing on schedule," said Senators chief amateur scout Pierre Dorion. "He skated for the first time last week. We have no concerns about the knee. It’s happened to a lot of players in the past. That, for us, was not a concern."
Murray sensed he wasn't the only one with an eye for the big blueliner.
"The injury set him back a great deal," said Murray. "We had a number of calls at the last minute trying to get the pick. I don’t know if it was only for him or not but very definitely, there were teams that appeared to want that pick badly."
While Cowen is clearly an imposing physical presence already, the Senators aren't putting a timetable on his arrival in the NHL just yet.
"He’s already 225 pounds but when we checked him out, he’s still got a lot of room to grow physically," said Dorion. "We won’t put a time line (on him). We know that he’s going to play this year for Spokane or for us, depending on how quick he heals. From there, we’ll see how it goes."
Added Murrray: "Because he missed a fair amount of the year last year, it might be difficult for him (to play in Ottawa right away). Young guys recover, young guys develop … but it appears to me that we’ll try to be smart and be careful with him. He’ll probably go back to play junior for a year and make the junior team for the world championship (in Regina and Saskatoon) next year. But you never close the door on him."