Buffalo Sabres draft pick Dylan Cozens remains with the NHL club as their training camp opens, but at this point, it seems likely that he will eventually end up returning to his WHL club, the Lethbridge Hurricanes, for the upcoming season - and that’s okay.
Cozens, 18, just finished up some action at the Prospects Challenge with the Sabres. He was a very-late addition to the roster after his thumb injury/surgery/recovery was determined to be in good enough shape for him to participate. He played in last Friday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils, and spent time alongside guys like Matej Pekar and Lukas Rousek.
Last Friday’s game was one of his first times really skating in months, and Cozens relished the opportunity to get back on the ice in a game setting.
“Obviously, I didn’t skate that much this summer,” Cozens said. “So to get in and get some ice, play against some real competition, some physical games, is definitely going to prepare me for main camp.”
“Everyone’s competing hard, and it was good to just get my legs under me again, and get to play hockey,” he added.
He didn’t play in Saturday’s game against the Boston Bruins, and it makes sense that the Sabres would give him a night of rest in a set of back-to-back games. Cozens was back in action as the Sabres faced the Pittsburgh Penguins prospects on Monday afternoon.
Despite getting a late start to his offseason training, Cozens said over the weekend that he felt as though he was ready for camp.
“It’s unfortunate to have to get surgery and miss a summer of upper-body training,” he said. “But... I think I didn’t miss out on much. I feel really strong. I focused on some other things, lower-body strength.”
“To be completely honest, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything.”
Cozens is one of 18 forwards in training camp for the Sabres this year, alongside veterans like Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner, and AHLers like Sean Malone, Andrew Oglevie and C.J. Smith.
This summer’s prospects camp and the recent Prospects Challenge also gave Cozens a chance to get to know his new city, where he’ll presumably end up playing someday.
“In the short time that I’ve been a Sabre, I’ve noticed that it’s a very passionate hockey city,” he said after the first game of the Prospects Challenge. “I was told that there’s gonna be lots of fans out here tonight, and it was completely packed. That’s awesome to see for a tournament like this.”
Cozens showcased his speed and impressive puck-handling skills during his first few times on the ice. In Friday’s training camp session, he served as a center between Remi Elie and Tage Thompson in the second group.
With Cozens just recently getting cleared to play - literally a day before the Prospects Challenge - and the crowded group of forwards at Sabres’ training camp, he is almost certainly heading back to juniors in the next three to four weeks.
Could he get a nine-game look at the NHL? Perhaps, particularly depending on injuries that creep up for other players, but at this point, don’t expect to see him in Buffalo for the long-term. Instead, plan to keep a close eye on the Hurricanes (the WHL ones, that is) and see if he can surpass the 84 points in 68 games that he recorded last season.
Then, perhaps we revisit the topic next summer.
P.S. Corey Pronman at The Athletic ranked Cozens #13 among top NHL prospects. Not too shabby...