The Top 20 Under 24 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of five staff writers and over 300 readers that ranked prospects under the age of 24 and have played less than 125 NHL games.
As we reach the pinnacle of our countdown, it comes as no surprise that Dylan Cozens claims the top spot. What is surprising, perhaps, is the quality of prospect the Sabres may have stumbled upon.
Picking in the latter half of the top 10 in the draft has not been kind to Buffalo in the last decade, but all signs are trending upward when it comes to Cozens. As we approach the 2020 World Junior Championships, he not only is representing his country, but also serving as an assistant captain and likely the top pivot for a stacked Team Canada lineup.
This all, of course, is after a stellar year in the WHL for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, where he registered 85 points in 51 games. After success of that magnitude, little doubt was left as to where Cozens would end up playing in 2021.
As for what he brings to the ice, the gifted center is loaded with many tools in his belt. The initial thing that jumps out at you when evaluating Cozens is his speed in transition. His ability to make plays at high speeds brings a wow factor to his game.
It’s not just his play with the puck that can impress, however. Cozens also is considered elite is his two-way hockey sense, and brings a good compete level to both ends of the ice. On top of that, his shot has proven very successful at every level he’s played, and he has the size and build that allows him to play physical when need be.
Long-term projections plot Cozens as a top-line center. In fact a handful of writers, such as the Athletic’s Scott Wheeler, had him as the top prospect in the entire NHL leading up to the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, where a new handful of prospects leapfrogged him. With Jack Eichel presumably the Sabres’ number on center for a long time, Cozens would certainly be a welcomed dynamic number two. If things keep trending in the right direction, the tandem could cornerstone an exciting offense for the next decade or so.
The top prospect’s road to Buffalo ends very shortly. Despite coming into the 2021 season as a rookie, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if coach Ralph Krueger entrusts Cozens with a scoring role in the top six. Many project him to start on the wing with the Sabres - potentially with Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner. Other likely scenarios could see him in a sheltered third line role to begin the season, either as a center or on Cody Eakin’s right wing.