Buffalo Sabres Players Season Report Card: Dylan Cozens

Dylan Cozens made a name for himself at a young age as a hard-working player. From his junior years to his very short NHL career, he has never taken a shift off. Nicknamed the “Workhorse from Whitehorse” early on, it seemed like he was on a mission this season to shed the “all work with some scoring” label that was tied to him. Instead, he wanted to show that he had a much better scoring touch than was previously anticipated.

His first season with the Sabres was the COVID season that had no fans showing up in many arenas, so he never got to feel what it was like for a Buffalo crowd to cheer his name being called out. He had a rough go in his rookie year, scoring only four goals and 13 points in 42 games, but that only seemed to motivate him. Cozens became the poster child for what it meant to love the game and just keep driving to improve no matter what. Every night on the television broadcast, even if the game was lost, he could always be seen smiling and having the time of his life. This type of positivity and energy contributed to his progression and improvement this season.

High Expectations Put Pressure On Cozens

When Cozens was drafted in 2019, he was projected to end up as a good two-way forward who could round out a team’s top-six forward group. He wouldn’t be a big scorer, but he could play both sides of the puck and grind down opponents so that his linemates could make the plays needed. In his rookie year, Cozens looked a little out of place as he was still getting a handle on the NHL game. Still, he took what he learned in 2020 and translated it into something reliable for the Sabres in 2021-22.

Buffalo Sabres Don Granato Dylan Cozens
Buffalo Sabres head coach Don Granato talks to Dylan Cozens (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

With Jack Eichel being ostracized and no longer considered the face of the franchise, Cozens was chosen as the Sabres representative for the NHL Media Tour. He took this in stride and knew the pressure was on him to make an impression as the assumed successor to Eichel. He was considered the top center prospect in the Sabres system besides Casey Mittelstadt and was even assumed to be their first line center if Mittelstadt went down for any reason (which did happen early). All of this happened before the breakout and domination of Tage Thompson, so all eyes were on Cozens.

A Quiet but Successful Season for Cozens

Many times throughout the season, head coach Don Granato would turn to his young forward in big situations. In an early game against the Oilers, he was tasked with keeping up with and shutting down Connor McDavid. The Sabres didn’t really have many players that could match up with him, but Cozens took on the task with pride and vigor. He not only shut down McDavid all night while he was out there against him, but he added two goals to his total for the season which gave Buffalo a big 3-2 win.

Cozens continued to produce in the Sabres’ middle-six while being utilized on the second power-play unit and at even strength. He was matched with the likes of Vinnie Hinostroza while he was healthy, and spent a lot of time with one of the Sabres’ top leaders this year in Kyle Okposo. By season’s end, he finished with 13 goals and 38 points in 79 games. He had nine power play points and 55 penalty minutes to go along with those numbers too. Each of his goals scored were a combination of speed, size, and skill.

Every night, Cozens was noticeable. He was always skating hard and driving plays whenever possible. He did all the right things and got rewarded for his efforts. With time and continued development under Granato, he will have ample opportunity to score more and become one of the Sabres’ more reliable players all around.

Final Grades and Improvements For Cozens

Given that he made significant improvements to his play and his stats from the previous season, Cozens deserves some high marks. Where he could still use some work is in his confidence and finishing ability. Too many times this year Cozens just looked snakebitten similar to how Jeff Skinner was the last couple of years. He had enough chances to score that he easily could have finished with 20 or more goals if he just finished half of the ones he missed. Beyond that, he should continue to develop his scoring touch by diversifying how he shoots. He rarely takes a slap shot, and as a bigger player, that could be a valuable asset to him.

With all of that said, his overall grades look like this:

  • Scoring – B-
  • Playmaking – B+
  • Leadership – A
  • Defense – B
  • Teamwork – A+

If Cozens continues to develop into the player that he is on track to be, the Sabres will have a very reliable second line player that can play in every situation. Being mentored by Kyle Okposo this season has done wonders for his development, and it paints a picture that could one day lead to him being the next Sabres captain.

Cozens Future Look

Cozens is the type of player that is loved by his teammates and the fans alike. A player gaining popularity from work ethic on the ice is something that the Sabres faithful give out regularly. Not every player with the highest goal totals or point totals becomes a fan favorite, but players that grind and drive and show that they truly are working to win a game at all costs will last in the hearts of Sabres fans forever. Players like Michael Peca, Paul Gaustad, Zemgus Girgensons, and now Cozens all built a reputation for being leaders by outworking the other team on every shift. This, combined with his scoring ability will keep Cozens in a Sabres uniform for a long time.

The puzzle to solve with him is who he should be playing with. He showed signs of chemistry with similar players like Okposo and Hinostroza, but he cannot be relegated to the third line forever. Having a veteran presence is important for him, but he also needs to gain chemistry with some of his fellow young teammates. Someone like Peyton Krebs has shown significant chemistry with Cozens.

JJ Peterka Buffalo Sabres
JJ Peterka, Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Ben Green/NHLI via Getty Images)

Pairing them together with the likes of top prospect JJ Peterka could be a very dominant line. Krebs is a playmaker first but still has some solid finishing ability. Cozens is the play driver that works corners and the net front. Peterka is the one that rounds out the line by doing a little of everything. He can make passes similar to Krebs, work plays down low like Cozens, and still scores goals with his solid finishing ability. Seeing these three together would give the Sabres a young scoring line that can still play a shutdown role.

Cozens has a bright future in the NHL. His gameplay will evolve and improve over time and it is exciting to see that come together for a Sabres prospect, especially considering the lack of player development in recent years. Grooming a young player to be captain one day is tough, but Cozens is the type of player that doesn’t back down from a challenge. It most likely will not be next season as Alex Tuch or Kyle Okposo are poised to become the next captain, but by age 26-28, Cozens will have his skills honed, and his leadership ability in full swing even if a letter is never put on his chest.

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