BUFFALO – Just 41 games into his NHL career, center Dylan Cozens has already become one of the faces of the rebuilding Sabres.
Cozens, 20, ranks among the Sabres’ most popular players and is considered a franchise cornerstone. When the NHL recently held its annually preseason media tour, the Sabres sent him to Chicago to talk to national outlets and film on-ice promos.
The Yukon native, the seventh overall pick in 2019, understands expectations are extremely high for him this season.
“After a long summer, I think I want to come in and dominate right away,” Cozens said on a Zoom call following Tuesday’s 5-4 preseason shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. “I want to step up and be a guy who can help lead this team.”
So early in training camp, Cozens put too much pressure on himself, playing with what coach Don Granato called “a lot of anxiety.” Cozens often forced plays, looking erratic.
“I was hurting myself by trying to do too much,” Cozens said. “I just need to simplify things and play my game and stick to it, be confident in myself. I mean, it’s preseason. I’m not getting too frustrated.”
After three subpar preseason outings, Cozens relaxed a little Tuesday. As a result, he showcased a calmer, more composed style while recording two assists.
Granato, who has been talking to Cozens about his struggles, said the youngster stopped trying to make perfect plays every shift.
“He’s reading plays better as a consequence and obviously playing with more confidence and poise,” he said. “And when he does that, his skill comes to the forefront.”
Granato said Cozens is so competitive “he wants everything right now.”
“That complicated the issue for him,” he said. “He became very frustrated and he dealt with that better and his overall game was much better (Tuesday).”
Despite his early struggles, Cozens’ four preseason assists ranked second in the league entering Wednesday’s games.
Granato said Tuesday he was considering moving Cozens, who spent part of his rookie season playing wing, back to the side.
“I’m open to whatever,” Cozens said. “He’s the head coach, he makes the decisions. I can play center, I can play wing.”