Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Sometimes you can tell when an athlete is just giving you a line to be politically correct, but when I spoke with Dylan Cozens this week following his on-ice session at Harborcenter, I can tell you without doubt, he is looking forward to another season with the Buffalo Sabres this year.
“I think that we’re going to surprise a lot of people this year," Cozens believes. "Everyone’s doubting us because we’re a young team, but if you look at the second half of last season, we were beating those veteran teams. So I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people and we’re going to have a good year.”
I think the 20-year-old knows this is going to be his team, and he can’t wait to be the leader. Now, don’t get me wrong, Cozens is not trying to push Jack Eichel out the door, but when the time comes up, he’ll be ready.
“I’ve always seen myself as a leader," Cozens said. "I want to lead by example and be a guy that guys can look to if they need anything or look to to inspire them. That’s what I’ve always been growing up - the guy that wants to lead and do things the right way.”
With the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 season, Cozens only played 41 games in his rookie year. The kid took on a small leadership role, because Eichel, Jake McCabe and Kyle Okposo were all injured at times. He feels he’s ready for more in his second NHL season.
“I think definitely I could go out and be a leader on this team," Cozens said. "Just by the way I play, leading by example and being a voice in the room. I think it’s something I’m ready to do.”
In 2016, the Edmonton Oilers made Connor McDavid the youngest captain in NHL history at the age of 19. He was 20 days younger than Gabe Landeskog was when the Colorado Avalanche made him the captain. Landeskog was mature enough and was ready, McDavid was not.
Sidney Crosby is the third-youngest captain in league history and he too was ready, but he had a good veteran supporting cast around him to help. Jonathan Toews was 20-years-old when the Chicago Blackhawks made him captain, while Steve Yzerman was 21 when he took over for the Detroit Red Wings for former Sabres captain Danny Gare. Crosby, Toews and Yzerman were all up for the job, and I think Cozens is too.
If Don Granato doesn’t want to name a captain this season and just let Cozens play another season without worry of leadership, I’d get it, but if you’re worried about if he could handle it at a young age, I absolutely think he could.
Granato now has the job as Sabres head coach, and the young players thrived last season after he took over. Cozens was very happy Granato got the full-time job this offseason.
“We love him as a coach," Cozens said of his head coach. "Just how competitive he is, how offensive minded that he is and we all love playing for him.
"We had a way better second half, so we're all excited to get him back for sure."
Last season, Cozens played mostly wing with a little bit of center. Now he wants to become a full-time centerman.
“That’s the position I want to play in this league, so I see myself as a center,” Cozens said.
When I heard Cozens talk about what he wants to help build in Buffalo, all I could hear was Bills head coach Sean McDermott, Bills general manager Brandon Beane, Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams and Granato talking to the team.
“You want to build a culture here. You want to build a winning culture," Cozens said. "We don’t want to accept losing. So I think we have a lot of guys here who are all thinking the same way and it’s exciting to see.”