Whitehorse’s Dylan Cozens addresses the media after being selected seventh overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft on June 21 in Vancouver. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

Dylan Cozens gets to know Buffalo, preps for development camp

“It’s definitely starting to set in that the NHL is a realistic thing now — it’s really happening”

Just one week ago, Dylan Cozens was the fifth-ranked North American skater in the final NHL Central Scouting rankings.

Today, he’s a Buffalo Sabre.

Projected to be selected in the top 10 in most expert mock drafts, a particularly deep class meant it was anyone’s guess which team might pick the six-foot-three (1.9-metre) forward.

When the Buffalo Sabres announced Cozens as the seventh pick in the 2019 NHL Entry in Vancouver, years of work, dedication and sacrifice on the part of Cozens were rewarded.

In an exclusive interview with the News, the Yukoner said the events of June 21 are starting to sink in.

“It’s definitely set in now, just being in the city and meeting everyone and getting a tour of the dressing room and seeing the rink,” said Cozens from Buffalo, N.Y. “It’s definitely starting to set in that the NHL is a realistic thing now — it’s really happening.”

Cozens is in Buffalo not only to check out his new city and meet team staff, media and fans — he’s also at the team’s annual summer development camp from June 26 to 29.

There has certainly been a lot to take in over the last week, but Cozens said getting to Buffalo and getting on the ice so quickly after the draft is a benefit.

“It’s nice to kind of get there right away. You’re super excited and you want to meet everyone and experience it,” he said. “I flew straight from Vancouver to Buffalo, so it was nice to get here a couple days before camp and just walk around the city, explore everything, meet everyone and get settled in.”

Video of Cozens being welcomed to the team by Vancouver native Sam Reinhart on draft day as well as a phone call from captain Jack Eichel later that night both made the rounds on social media. Cozens said most of the Sabres are home for the summer but he did have a chance to meet defenceman Zach Bogosian.

Although general manager Jason Botterill was clear he doesn’t expect Cozens to make the NHL out of training camp — or anyone not named Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko for that matter — Cozens has already picked up on the pressure he’ll face once he arrives in the league.

“I think expectations are high,” said Cozens. “This team — we saw a bit of it last year — went on that 10 game win streak, was first in the league.”

That was in November 2018 and although the team finished sixth in the Atlantic division, Cozens is right to pick up on the team’s potential.

“They’ve got a lot of really good young players and it’s a team on the rise, so it’s exciting to be a part of that,” said Cozens. “Everyone wants to win here. This city, they’re hungry for championships. They want to win, so it’s exciting to be a part of it.”

There was more good news for Dylan Cozens last week.

Hockey Canada included Cozens on a list of 43 players invited to the National Junior Team Summer Development Camp at the end of July in Plymouth, Michigan. A strong performance at that camp would do a lot for making a case he deserves a roster spot for the World Junior Hockey Championships at the end of the year.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Cozens. “It’s kind of overshadowed a bit by all of the draft stuff that’s going on, but to get a chance to represent my country on a stage like that at the world juniors, it’s something that I’m very happy about. I want to perform as best as I can at that and prove that I deserve a spot on that team.”

As for the question that broke the internet in the lead up to the draft, Cozens said he doesn’t know who was involved in the play where he broke his leg at 12.

“I honestly have no idea who it was,” he said.

Cozens did, however, extend gratitude and thanks to the thousands of newly-minted Sabres fans in the Yukon, describing the support as “awesome.”

“I just want to say thank you to everyone up there who’s supported me and believed in me throughout this whole process,” he said. “It’s been a long journey to get where I am today and I know I wouldn’t be able to have done it without all the people back in Whitehorse who have helped me develop.”

More importantly, Cozens said he’s content with the way things unfolded.

“I wouldn’t want to change a thing about the path I’ve taken. I’m so proud to be from Whitehorse and represent it.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

Dylan Cozens