Maybe Jared Cowen makes this team after all.
I already had him back in junior hockey after the first pre-season game confirmed what I saw in the rookie tournament: a gangly kid who looked lost in all three zones.
Two games later, I'm not so sure anymore. To me, he's been the most improved player on the team since the start of camp. Last night against the Habs in Kanata, Cowen looked like an NHL player to me. Or at least close to it.
He made a few errors later in the game, but he finally started using his size and looked like he knew what to do with the puck for a change.
Now, I don't know what's happened with Eric Gryba. He had a great rookie tournament, opened a lot of people's eyes, but the team has only played him in one pre-season tilt so far, and when Ian Mendes interviewed GM Bryan Murray, Gryba's name wasn't even mentioned when the GM was listing the candidates to fill that one vacant spot on the blueline.
Reading the tea leaves, it sounds like Gryba is headed to Bingo. That leaves Cowen, Brian Lee and vet David Hale fighting for that sixth spot. Maybe two make it if the Senators keep seven defenseman like they have in the past.
I think it's a toss-up now deciding who gets it. During the telecast last night on Rogers, they showed a scrum with coach Cory Clouston who seemed to hint that possibly Hale could be the frontrunner. No one asked specifically about Hale, but Clouston volunteered the information and seemed to zero in on Hale in his comments, talking about his experience and solid play.
To me, this team needs Cowen and/or Hale more than they need Lee. They have a lot of guys with similar skill sets to Lee but only one guy, Matt Carkner, who is going to provide steady physical play. Hale is a known commodity. He's not spectacular at what he does, but he's not going to hurt you unless he takes a lot of penalties.
So now Cowen is the real wild card. Can he keep improving? If so, he looks like he may be the guy, especially with the knowledge that he would have to go back to junior if he doesn't make the team. Some say another year of junior would do him good. Some say he could develop best against better competition.
Either way, I've sure wasted a lot of virtual ink on what is going to be a marginal position in the big scheme of things.
But it proves one thing. This Senators team is on the right track if everyone is only worrying about who's going to be the sixth and seventh defenseman.
A good sign.