This is part two of a three part series looking into who Easton Cowan is as a prospect. Yesterday in part one, I looked at the context and statistics of Cowan's journey as a prospect up until now. Today, in part two will be the bulkiest of the series – I will look at the specific elements of Cowan's game on the ice, with video and scouting reports to share.
One note before I start. In years past, I would look up past games of Toronto's newly drafted prospects as long as I was able to. Unfortunately, I learned right after the NHL draft that the CHL streaming app has already removed all of last season's games and I cannot access them anymore. Neat.
So, this year I will be leaning more heavily on other scouting reports and whatever highlights I can find! The problem with that is... prospects always look better just looking at highlights, because it's just showing their good plays. It doesn't give you context for how they look when they're off, not playing well, making mistakes, or just not really doing anything. That's good context to have, and I'll have to wait to see that next season when I can watch their game video live.
All that out of the way, let's dive into it!
I can say that from all the clips I watched, Cowan appears to be a pretty speed and agile skater. Not the fastest or the most maneuverable, but I'd say above average all across the board. He's pretty solid on his feet and bigger players sometimes just bounce off him when he has his feet set.
At the draft combine, Cowan finished at the very top of the Pro Agility test, which measured how quickly they could stop and start in quick bursts over between short distances. This tracks with watching Cowan play, as he can stop hard on a dime to change direction – especially on the cycle.
The two other fitness tests where Cowan scored 9th in the body fat percentage (7.54%), and tied for 4th in the VO2 Max endurance test. Basically, Cowan is extremely fit. He's got a lot of muscle and not much fat on him, and he has endurance for days. Probably has a lifetime of helping on his family's farm to thank for that.
This explains a lot when watching Cowan skating. First, he's a bull on his skates and difficult for even bigger and heavier players to knock him over. Second, he's just constantly going. He plays at a high pace almost at all times. He never quits on a play and looks like he's skating all out the entire shift at times, without slowing down due to fatigue.
Even under high defensive pressure, the energetic Cowan should still be able to link passing plays in transition, manipulate defensive gaps with clever movements and feints[...]
“A bit of deception to his movements, using weight shifts to show one thing but preparing another,” Brown wrote in a February report. “Attacks the middle and works plays high."
McKeen's Hockey rated him as the 7th best skater in the draft class. From their draft guide...
A strong skater, Cowan forechecked, drove the net, controlled the wall, and consistently made himself a passing option, making him a terrific complementary piece inside of London’s top nine [...] He is lightning quick.
From FC Hockey's draft guide...
Cowan’s end-to-end speed is impressive despite a somewhat unconventional stride that’ll require some smoothing out [...] His skating could use some work on turning and agility, but his end-to-end speed is quite good despite a little bit of a funky stride.
Cowan's play style is pretty straight forward and aggressive, but also clever (more on that below). He is not fancy or flashy, and while he has skill you will not mistake him for Matthews, Nylander or Marner. He's more of a Knies, Bunting, or Hyman, so he is not going to try and dangle his way past defenders. Instead, he will mostly get by them with speed, skating (those cuts and stops), and being smart with things like give and go's.
Cowan focus isn't on making skill plays. Instead, he looks to make the play that will be effective in the moment. Sometimes that means making a skill play, but he won't try to deke his way out of a problem just because. That's both a good and a bad thing, but I'll expand on that later.
From Elite Prospects...
He establishes body positioning on pucks, spins off his check, and battles for possession. He does try too hard sometimes with his choice of plays and drives around the ice, but I like that he uses teammates when they’re available. And he has a pretty good sense for moving away from the puck, for attacking pockets of space at the right time. He’s very inside-driven, too.
He plays a fast, clever, determined and consistent game, hunting pucks, winning races, and then making little skill plays when opportunities or openings in coverage present themselves [...] He takes or plays pucks into the middle, thrives in give-and-gos playing off of his linemate [...] reads the ice well and plays with patience facilitating to his linemates.
However, late in the year we saw his confidence with the puck grow substantially. He drove pace and dominated touches in the OHL playoffs as part of London’s top line, showcasing more skill than we had previously thought.
Best of all, his puck skill and puck protection ability showed significant growth over the year suggesting that he might just be hitting the tip of the iceberg regarding his potential.
McKeens is touching on an important element, which is Cowan's puck protection. He's almost Knies-like in his ability to turn his back to defenders along the wall and protect the puck from being knocked away. And as mentioned, he's very hard to knock over because he's so strong for his size. The issue with this is that he's not Knies-like in his size. That may not matter as much for things like being difficult to push off balance, but it does matter for having the reach to keep the puck away from defenders' sticks who are taller and have a much longer reach.
Cowan's passing and playmaking is his best offensive skill. He has a solid awareness of where everyone is, and where to put a pass in a dangerous area of the ice. He'll pull off some excellent passes almost out of nowhere, seeing teammates arriving into a soft area in coverage and feeding them with an almost perfect tape to tape feed.
The limiting factor for Cowan comes back to what I said about his skill handling the puck. Because Cowan doesn't have a high level of puck handling ability, it's harder for him to create passing opportunities than it would be for other high end forwards. He relies on his skating and quickness to get the space he needs to execute on the opportunities he sees. He's a quick give and go guy, and doesn't seem to like to hang onto the puck that long. It's working for him quite well in junior right now, but I do wonder how well he would be able do it as a pro.
Here are some highlights, in all of them Cowan is wearing #7 and is always one of the players passing the puck.
From Elite Prospects...
He sees plays others do not and his passing skills and high motor made up for some of his skating flaws this season. He spotted teammates rushing in even behind defensive lines, connected with them with hook and slip feeds, and then skated as hard as he could to then join them on their attacks [...] He anticipates his teammates’ routes and involves them. Bypasses defenders with quick passes then sprints for the return. with quick passes then sprints for the return.
From FC Hockey...
Cowan displays decent vision, making quick plays under pressure and driving play to the middle lane [...] his playmaking is slightly above average.
From OHL Prospects (Brock Otten)...
His vision with the puck is good, especially when attacking with pace. His vision with the puck is good, especially when attacking with pace. As the season progressed, he gained so much confidence in his carrying ability. Not only that, but his poise and patience increased. In the playoffs, we saw him dictate pace and learn to slow the game down, rather than simply just play that North/South game. There are limitations in his skill and creativity. He's not likely to be a high end skill guy in the NHL. In fact, he probably settles into more of a complementary role in the NHL.
A few scouts I saw rated his shot as average, and I would agree with that. He can beat goalies in junior from medium distance, mostly because he has a pretty quick and accurate release. But you're not going to see many highlights of him sniping goals or ripping hard slap shots or one timers. He needs time and space to really wind up and rip a hard shot. The goals he scores are mostly off the rush or while he's around the net.
But other scouts liked his shot, and while they did not use these words I would say they rate it as above average but probably not elite. Where I think the difference lies is his pure shooting ability vs how and when he decides to shoot. So while I would say that Cowan doesn't have an above average shot, I would say he is an above average shooter. By that I mean, he is very smart with choosing when to shoot, and has a lot of underrated and clever skill in how he shoots.
Here are some highlights of his shooting:
Cowan typically only takes shots closer to the net anyway, so he doesn't need a lot of power. He has an uncanny ability to get a quick and accurate shot off in any situation, even when it seems awkward or impossible. The element of surprise helps a lot, as does the ability to shoot through defenders' sticks and legs. He also has very good hand-eye coordination with his stick, and it helped him get some goals off deflections and batting pucks out of the air. Considering his play style and positioning around the net, making that a high level ability will help him a lot.
Here are some highlights of his deflections around the net:
This is an area of Cowan's game that likely stands out the most, visually. I've touched on it above already, but Cowan plays a very aggressive style of play. I know in the comments of the draft piece, people pointed out how poor Cowan looked in his defensive tracking data. I talked about some caution when using that alone to assess his defense, and it turns out I was correct to do so.
Now, I won't say Cowan will be the next Mark Stone, but he is very capable as a two-way winger. His skating, smart reads, relentless pace and aggressive physical engagement help out a lot. He causes turnovers all over the ice. He jumps into passing lanes. He hounds puck carriers to lift sticks and yoink it away for himself. He throws his body at puck carriers and will more often than not come away from the collision in a better position than the opponent does. He was used heavily on the penalty kill by the end of the year, where he had his six short handed points.
Here's some highlights of Cowan winning puck battles to help sustain or generate offense:
From Scott Wheeler...
Cowan is a standout skater who buzzes around the ice, works and plays hard, thrives on the penalty killCowan is a standout skater who buzzes around the ice, works and plays hard, thrives on the penalty kill [...] supports play defensively, reads the ice well and plays with patience facilitating to his linemates. He’s a heart-and-soul guy
From McKeen's Hockey...
Early on this year, Cowan excelled purely from hard work and perseverance. A strong skater, Cowan forechecked, drove the net, controlled the wall,Early on this year, Cowan excelled purely from hard work and perseverance. A strong skater, Cowan forechecked, drove the net, controlled the wall [...] He competes physically.
From FC Hockey...
...a constant motor that applies heavy pressure on the forecheck and in the neutral zone. He uses his speed to disrupt transition plays and force opposing defenders into turnovers [...] Fearless in dirty areas, Cowan plays with a physical edge against bigger players, despite his developing frame. He brings an element to his lines that maintains possession in the offensive zone and turns pucks over quickly on defense. Cowan’s elite competitive level, his best quality, enables him to get to pucks, win puck battles, and set up plays across all game situations, including shorthanded, on the power play, and at five-on-five, and across all zones.
From OHL Prospects...
His compete level is excellent. He's strong on the forecheck and backcheck. He can play in any situation and projects as a high end penalty killer.
The scouting reports above touched on it, but Cowan's physicality and aggression comes through everywhere on the ice. In the neutral zone, he chases down puck carriers to cause turnovers and get back on offense. In the offensive zone, he forechecks hard and attacks the defenders trying to retrieve dump ins with his body and good stick work.
Cowan doesn't throw a check just to hit someone, he is trying to get them off balance so he can come away with the puck more easily. If he does get it, he is quick to take it out into the slot or pass it if he sees a teammate in the open. If these skills play up as a pro, he will be a very useful two-way forward who provides support to his linemates and helps drive possession. He very much has it in him to be a Hyman-type of player, though probably not at his level. Think more of Hyman's level when he first broke into the NHL, not where he's gotten to.
Now we come to the standout element of Cowan's game – he's just very smart on the ice. That means a variety of things, in his case.
First, he has a good sense of anticipation for how the play will develop, and this is something he uses with and without the puck. With the puck, it helps him identify passing options ahead of time where he can see where people are on the ice and what direction they're heading, then lead his teammates who are jumping into open ice at the right time. Without the puck, he does the same in reverse and times his routes into open ice to be in the right place at the right time to receive a pass with a chance to shoot. It also helps him see passing options for the other team so he can get a stick in the way at the right time to steal it, or at least deflect it away.
Second, it helps him get the most out of his skills. I mentioned his shot above, where he is a good shooter without a 'good' shot. But the same idea applies to everything. He may not be the fastest and most agile skater, but he has a very good sense of timing and manipulation with his feet to know how and when he can start, stop, accelerate, slow down, and so on. That helps him time his routes and keep defensemen off balance. He may not mechanically be as good a passer as, say, a Mitch Marner, but his sense of anticipation and timing lets him hit crafty and unexpected passes. He may not be the biggest and strongest, even if he is pretty damn strong for his size, but he has a good sense of how and when to throw a check so he has the benefit of strong balance while his opponent does not.
From Elite Prospects:
He’s intelligent and creative, and, for the most part, doesn’t rely on advantages that he won’t have at the next level [...] Contrary to other undersized-by-NHL-standards CHLers who create by outspeeding and outdangling the opposition, the London Knights winger does it in a more projectable way – by outsmarting opponents. His hockey sense will remain an advantage at higher levels.
From McKeen's Hockey, which had him listed as a "top sleeper prospect":
The combination of his smarts and work ethic is what makes Cowan so unique in this draft class, and these are the two driving forces in his game. Cowan translates as a 200-foot utility player at the next level who can provide secondary scoring... He sees the ice well and has great offensive instincts.
From Smaht Scouting:
Cowan is an excellent two-way forward that has elite vision, passing and hockey IQ... Defensively, Cowan has an active stick, and is constantly hovering above his opponent looking to strip the puck and get the play started the other way.
And this is it for the scouting breakdown. Tomorrow we're going to put all the pieces together and give my overall assessment of Cowan as a prospect, and the choices Toronto made (and didn't make) when drafting him.