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Cowen's health a question mark Add to ...

Being tall, basketball tall, never used to be an attribute that NHL scouts sought after when sizing up prospective defencemen.

But 6-foot-9 Boston Bruin Zdeno Chara, Anaheim Ducks 6-foot-6 Chris Pronger, 6-foot-5 Braydon Coburn of the Philadelphia Flyers and 6-foot-4 Florida Panther Jay Bouwmeester certainly changed that way of thinking with their skill level in both ends of the rink.

The Buffalo Sabres hope they hit the NHL entry draft jackpot with 6-foot-6 Kelowna Rockets defender Tyler Myers, who was chosen 12th overall last year, and plenty of teams have interest in selecting Spokane Chiefs lanky 6-foot-5, 220-pound blueliner Jared Cowen at the draft in Montreal next month.

But while the 18-year-old Cowen is a lock to be taken in the first round, he is considered a wildcard prospect heading into the 2009 NHL entry draft because of the serious right knee injury he suffered a few months ago that required reconstructive surgery on Feb. 18.

In a WHL game on Feb. 2 against the Chilliwack Bruins, Cowen suffered medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligament damage when an opponent fell back onto his right leg after Cowen finished his check.

"I felt two pops and kind of a crunch when it happened and I knew right away that it was serious," he said. "Obviously, I was really bummed that it happened. We had 20 games left until the playoffs and all I could do was watch from the stands or on television."

Cowen was 48 games into the regular season when the setback occurred. He already had exhibited more production in the offensive end with seven goals and 21 points than the four goals and 18 points he registered in his rookie season after the Chiefs selected him first overall in the WHL bantam draft.

Cowen is halfway through his rehabilitation, so because of his medical condition he did not participate in the annual prospects combine testing that is taking place at a hotel near the Toronto Pearson International Airport this weekend.

"It was frustrating," said Cowen, who was interviewed by 21 of the 30 teams this week. "All I want to do right now is skate and show them what I can do."

But the earliest Cowen of Allan, Sask, a village just southeast of Saskatoon, could be cleared for light skating would be in two weeks, when he visits his surgeon for a progress report. Still, even when Cowen attends the Canadian junior summer development camp in Saskatoon in early August, it's not a certainty that he'll be back skating in full flight.

"I just don't know at this point," he said. "I feel pretty good, though."

After winning the 2007-08 Memorial Cup with the Chiefs as a rookie - he scored an empty net goal in the final against the host Kitchener Rangers and then moments later watched the old trophy fall apart in the celebration - Cowen was the top-rated prospect in the WHL last fall, considered better than Vancouver Giants centre Evander Kane and Brandon Wheat Kings forward Brayden Schenn.

But Cowen's standing slipped among North American skaters even though he performed well in the top prospects game in Oshawa last January, falling to seventh in the NHL central scouting mid-term rankings and after the injury he dipped to ninth in the final grading.

Still, in his interviews with the different NHL clubs this week in Toronto, he received little criticism on his game. But, predictably, there were plenty of queries about his health.

"There wasn't a lot of criticism, just questions about my knee and how I was coming along," he said.

While most scouts expect Cowen to be back in junior with Spokane in the fall, he hopes to rebound from his injury and perform well enough to play for Canada at the 2010 world junior championship, which will be held in Saskatoon, just down the highway from where he was raised.

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