It's finally time to talk about Toronto's first round pick from this summer. After looking a lot like a first rounder should during the various summer camps and exhibitions, Cowan was eventually returned to London in the OHL.
For my other prospect updates, I've liked to wait until around 10 games were completed in their respective leagues before writing a prospect report. By the end of this past weekend, Cowan has played in exactly 10 OHL games, so now is the perfect time to look at how he's been doing.
STATS & CONTEXT
Cowan entered this season already on a hot streak. We all know how good he looked at their rookie camp and then again at the Traverse City prospect tournament where he led all of Toronto's players in points. We also saw him hang around their main NHL training camp and look pretty good against NHLers and other top prospects.
So, after his first OHL game London continued with the Cowan-as-a-centre experiment that they started this summer. He stuck at center on London for about 4-5 games before being moved back to the wing. Before and after, Cowan's play hasn't necessarily changed a lot outside of how many faceoffs he takes. Positionally, at centre Cowan did look good, but I'm guessing he got moved in part due to his 43% faceoff win percentage – plus, London has a bunch of natural centres. I'll be curious if they go back to it or if Toronto keeps trying him there when they have their hands on him.
Other than his exact position, Cowan's usage hasn't changed. He always gets a lot of minutes in all situations and every kind of leverage you can imagine. At even strength he's used to help facilitate a comeback and hold the lead. He is used a lot on the penalty kill, as he should be. He plays a lot on the top powerplay unit as well. In some overtimes he will be out for 3-4 minutes of the 5 minute period. When you add all of that up there's some games where he is very heavily used.
Through Cowan's first 10 games, he has 7 goals and 18 points. Only one of those points have come on the powerplay and he literally just got it on Sunday. Four of them have come short handed where he is an utter menace. If you sort the OHL page by points per game, Cowan is 2nd in the entire league regardless of age. And it's very close – 1.8 points per game behind the leader who has 1.88.
In short, Cowan is blowing expectations out of the water so far as far as production. I was setting my expectations for him to have a similar jump in production that Fraser Minten did in his D+1. But being almost 2 points per game and right among the league's best offensive producers is well beyond that. Having such heavy usage has helped, though like I said he isn't exactly relying on a ton of powerplay points. I think his season so far has gone as well as anyone could have hoped for, and I admit far better than what I was expecting.
So it's worth asking, what's behind the huge breakout? Well, I mentioned above Cowan plays a lot. Like... a lot. But considering he has only one powerplay point so far, he's basically been a monster at even strength and short handed. Both bode well for him, since if London's powerplay starts popping off his production rate could increase even more.
Cowan is a weird player for me to watch, scouting wise. You can tell by watching him that he's a very good and effective player, but not in very obvious ways. It's like trying to describe how or why John Tavares is so good vs someone like Marner or Matthews. He's not necessarily that flashy, he's just good. Actual scouts may be able to break down why in better descriptive terms than I can.
But I'll try all the same.
To me, Cowan is a "little things king", or a "jack of all trades but master of none" kind of player. He may not be truly elite in any one skill, but he's very good at everything. I cannot think of one big weakness in his game, only some areas that aren't as good as others. What I think ties his game together is his combination of being a high-pace, high effort player and being a very smart decision maker.
Cowan may not be the fastest or most agile skater, but is still very fast and agile. He also has some great endurance – which helps when he has some very long shifts, he is still keeping up with everyone after one or even two minutes on the ice. So while others on the ice may be slowing down after a long shift, Cowan can still keep going at a higher level than most of his peers.
Here's a good example of his agility, footwork and endurance. This was during overtime. His constantly shifting feet freezes the defender, and when that happens he explodes to get around him to create a clear lane to the net.
Here's another example – it's just pure speed by Cowan. He's quick enough to get to a loose puck twice, then just out skates the defender to the net to get a clear break.
Cowan may not be the most dynamic passer like a Mitch Marner, but he is a very good playmaker and distributor of the puck. He is a very good puck handler – even if he isn't flashy, his puck handling and aforementioned skating helps him create passing opportunities. Second, he just makes the right decisions most of the time. He will not force a pass very often, and will opt to make a simple or safer pass where it makes sense.
Here is one good example. Keep an eye on Cowan's body positioning and where all the other players are on the ice. His body and feet are facing the net, which gives him the opportunity to shoot. However, his arms and head are both angled towards his two teammates to suggest he's looking pass. The goalie has to respect that Cowan could shoot or pass to two different players. Cowan also waits and times the pass perfectly, so even though that was the most obvious pass for him to make it still gave his teammate enough time while the goalie is moving and not set.
Here's another good example. His skating and bulldog effort to continually fight through checks, trips and hooks sets up the initial opportunity, but Cowan again showed good patience and effort to wait just a bit longer. That extra second he waited brought both defenders to him, and enough time for his teammate to be more open and in a better position for a shot as a result. So even though this pass isn't very "flashy", the little things he did up to that point helped it be more effective.
Finally, his shot. Cowan may have a shot like Matthews, but it's good enough shot and gets to areas with the puck where it's more than effective. And again, he does a lot of little things that help his shot be more effective – he gets his body into a good position to get a shot off, even if he has defenders hauling him down. He has a good sense of timing for where and when to be to get a pass in dangerous areas of the ice. His shot can be very quick and accurate, which helps him pick spots that are harder for goalies to stop. If and when he gets shots in close enough, he can beat set goalies clean like in this example:
The one negative I have from Cowan's game has been his propensity for taking pretty dumb penalties. I joked earlier this season that I've found he resembles Max Domi at times, and not in a good way. He's averaging more than one minor penalty per game, and most of the penalties I've seen have just been... dumb, hence the Domi comparison. They aren't just chintzy stick calls where you yell at the ref for his bad game management. When he takes penalties, there is very little question if he deserved it.
The good part of that is, well, Cowan is young and dumb. He is a high intensity player in the OHL which is a league full of dumbness. Or, as Cathy quipped to me when I complained about Cowan doing something dumb over the weekend:
From my limited viewing I think they kick you out of the OHL if you aren't kinda stupid a lot of the time.
So this is hopefully something that he can be cured of as he gets older and less prone to testosterone-induced brain short circuiting.
All in all, it's been fun and exciting to watch his explosion in production and the quality of play that's been driving it. I'm looking forward to seeing some tracking data on him, and watching him continue to drive the bus for London as one of the OHL's top players.