Dylan Cozens scored 18 goals this year. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Dylan Cozens ‘disappointed’ himself, others during Sabres’ tough season

BUFFALO – In his fourth NHL season, center Dylan Cozens regressed offensively, scoring 13 fewer goals and 21 fewer points as the Sabres finished 12th in the Eastern Conference.

On Nov. 3, Cozens broke his nose during an ill-advised fight with heavyweight Garnet Hathaway, forcing him to miss two games. When he returned – he briefly sported a shield that hurt his vision – he scored one goal in his next 17 outings.

Cozens, 23, never found much of an offensive groove.

“There’s not too many positives I’m going to take from this year for myself,” he said April 18 as the Sabres held end-of-season meetings in KeyBank Center. “I know I disappointed a lot of people. I disappointed myself.”

Cozens might be more critical of his own play than any Buffalo player. As his words illustrate, he offers unvarnished assessments.

Still, in the aftermath of a difficult season that cost coach Don Granato his job, Cozens said he wanted to “look at some positives.”

“That’s kind of my penalty kill, defensive game,” he said.

Despite his own struggles and the team’s, Cozens developed into a top-pair penalty killer, earning duty alongside winger Jordan Greenway. Among Sabres forwards, only Greenway earned more short-handed ice time.

Cozens, having scored 31 goals and 68 points in 2022-23, has proven he can score.

“Now it’s time to put both those together,” he said of the offensive and defensive sides. “The offensive game I had the year before and my defensive game now, I want to be that two-way, complete player, and I think I can do that.”

Evolving into a trusted penalty killer boosted Cozens’ confidence. Even in short-handed situations, he showcased his offensive ability, scoring a team-leading three goals.

“It did a lot for me,” he said. “I’ve always loved playing on the penalty kill. I think it’s a spot for me to use my speed and take advantage of other teams’ mistakes as well. And then also getting that experience of shutting it down and playing defense, just trying to lock the other team down, I started to take a lot of pride in it.

“And I know Greener takes a lot of pride in the penalty kill, and getting to go out there with him was awesome. He helped me a lot.”

Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams believes Cozens’ defense will buoy his offense.

“If he plays the game the right way, meaning good on both sides of the puck, competing hard, fast, power forward mentality, get to the net, the offensive production will be a byproduct of that,” he said. “And not reversing the order of saying ‘I’m going to go score 30,’ and doing it a different way.”

Adams said on some nights Cozens played the tenacious two-way styled he described. Other nights, however, he did not play to his identity.

“I talked to Dylan sometimes this season about at the end of the game the other center you have been going against, especially at home when you are matched up against another team’s top line, has to be like, ‘This was miserable. That was miserable night going against 24 all game,’” Adams said. “And that’s the reputation that you have to have in this league.”

As he spoke before a throng of reporters, Cozens sounded ready for next season to start. He understands he and the Sabres, in missing the playoffs for the 13th straight year, fell well short of expectations.

“I think this is the most motivated I’ve ever been,” said Cozens, who spoke before the Sabres hired Lindy Ruff as coach. “I think all of us feel that way. We all know we can be better. We all know we need to be better. And I think every guy in here will be better. And there’s a lot of guys I think that didn’t quite have the season they wanted to, so we all just got to be hungry, hungry for more.”

Cozens’ appetite for more and distaste for losing has been evident since the Sabres drafted him seventh overall in 2019.

As his brief fight six months ago shows, sometimes Cozens’ desire gets him into trouble. With the Sabres trailing the Philadelphia Flyers late, he went after Hathaway.

But on some level, the Sabres need more of that attitude.

“We just have to hate losing so much that you want to go hit someone and take some frustration out that way,” Cozens said. “We just need to be hard to play, I think, whether that’s finishing more checks or just being grittier sometimes, goes a long way. It’s tough playing when you know you’re going to get hit every time you touch the puck.”

Sabres defense prospect Vsevolod Komarov has been named the Quebec Maritime Junior Hockey League’s Defenseman of the Year.

Komarov, 20, compiled 14 goals, 69 points and a plus-47 rating in 60 games this season.

The Russian’s team, the Drummondville Voltigeurs, are in the semifinal round of the QMJHL playoffs.

The Sabres drafted Komarov in the fifth round in 2022, 134th overall.

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