Bowen Byram skates Oct. 29 in Buffalo. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres believe trade gives them special person, player in Bowen Byram

TORONTO – Over the years, Sabres center Dylan Cozens said he and his close friend, defenseman Bowen Byram, had talked about someday playing on the same team again.

Cozens, 23, and Byram, 22, go way back, having played Midget hockey together and represented Team Canada in four tournaments as teenagers.

During the recent NHL All-Star break, they vacationed in Cancun, and Cozens said Byram, who won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2022, told him he wanted to join Buffalo.

“He just kept telling me how much he’d love to be here and play with us,” an excited Cozens said Wednesday in Scotiabank Arena after the Sabres acquired Byram in a trade.

The Sabres, of course, paid a steep price for Byram, the fourth overall pick in 2019, dealing center Casey Mittelstadt, a beloved teammate and their leading scorer.

Cozens and Sabres center Peyton Krebs, both of whom know Byram from their days in western Canada, had to balance their excitement over his arrival with losing Mittelstadt.

It wasn’t easy.

“It’s an interesting position to be in because he’s loved in that locker room,” Sabres coach Don Granato said of Mittelstadt following Wednesday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs. “They know it’s a business. They know it’s that time of the year, our players, but the familiarity with Bo coming in … there’s reason for them to get excited as well. I think that balanced it out.”

Krebs said “it hurts my heart to talk about” Mittelstadt, 25, being traded before today’s 3 p.m. deadline. Cozens said he felt “a lot of mixed emotions.”

“I love Mitts, I hung out with him lots, watched hockey with him lots,” Cozens said. “He lives so close to me, so we’d just sit on the couch and just talk and hang out for hours. So, obviously, it hurts losing that relationship. But, yeah, obviously, it makes it easy for me knowing I’m getting one of my best friends in return and just a guy that I’ve always loved playing with, love being on the ice with.”

Krebs said he was chatting with his wife, Erica, on FaceTime when Byram’s girlfriend texted her to share the news.

“So (I) instantly got a call from Bo and I was happy to see a smile on a face,” said Krebs, who attended Byram’s Cup celebration in British Columbia.

Krebs said off the ice, Byram, who played his first game for the Sabres on Thursday against the Nashville Predators, is “the definition of a beauty.”

“Then on the ice, he has a ton of skill, works his brains out,” he said. “He’s not afraid to get dirty in the corners, too. He’s a Cup champion and we need that in our own locker room and on the ice.”

In giving up a playmaking center entering his prime in exchange for the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Byram, Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams has focused on building his team around the blue line.

In Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power, two first overall picks, the Sabres possess two of the NHL’s most talented young defensemen. Now, they’ve added Byram to a group that also includes Henri Jokiharju and Mattias Samuelsson, who’s injured.

The oldest of the five, Jokiharju, is just 24.

“This is the way winning teams are built, and you see us with a better focus defensively, even in this building tonight,” Granato said of the defense corps. “… Those are the areas this franchise has needed to improve in, we’ve targeted, and it’s nice to see them making improvements.”

Entering Thursday’s road game against the Nashville Predators, the Sabres had allowed just 57 goals in 25 contests (2.28 a game) since Jan. 1, the NHL’s second-lowest total.

Cozens believes Byram, who battled concussions earlier in his career and has played 146 NHL games over his four seasons, is just scratching the surface.

“Man, he is just so good with the puck, he’s always got his head up,” he said. “He can skate with it so well, he can log huge minutes. He can play both sides of the game, he’s got an edge, and he’s just so skilled. His vision and hockey IQ is just, it’s incredible

“I’m excited to see him here with maybe some more opportunity and help him get his confidence and just watch him fly out there.”

Sabres center Tage Thompson missed Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury. He’s day to day, according to the team. Rookie winger Lukas Rousek moved into the lineup.

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