Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams joined Brian Koziol and myself before Thursday night's game against the Ottawa Senators.
We got into a number of different topics, including injuries and how he’s going to talk to Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane about how they’ve reduced injuries over the years.
Dylan Cozens is in his second year in the NHL, and at age 21, has never played a game in the minors. There have been times he’s struggled since turning pro, but Adams says in this case, it was more beneficial to keep him in the National Hockey League.
“You can have a plan or a philosophy overall, but no two cases are ever the same.. Even JJ Peterka and Jack Quinn are different in where they’re at," Adams said on WGR.
“Sometimes it’s a physical maturity, sometimes it’s mental in how they’re thinking the game. But what I’ll say about Dylan is that he possessed qualities even at a young age that you weren’t worried that he was going to lose his confidence. It’s the speed, and even if he wasn’t scoring, to make a difference; for me, I was watching very closely if he looked like a player that lost confidence or wasn’t himself. I never saw that, and I also felt that 'Donny' [Granato] and the coaching staff were really dialed into, 'How do we make this player learn and grow and get better?' So there is development that can happen in the National Hockey League too.”
Granato announced on Friday that Casey Mittelstadt will make his return Saturday afternoon against the Colorado Avalanche. In Friday’s practice, Mittelstadt centered Kyle Okposo and Rasmus Asplund.
Cozens has thrived while Mittelstadt has been out injured, and Granato will have trouble finding ice-time for Cozens, Mittelstadt and Tage Thompson.
“We keep talking about the Thompson line, and I’m not sold that we have three guys that have to stay together," Granato said after Friday's session. "With 'Mitzy' coming back, you have the potential skill coming into the lineup. So when you think of Thompson, Tuch and Skinner, they’re playing well together, they’re showing good chemistry, but we have a lot of players that will develop chemistry. So I’m not in a rush to change them, but we keep bringing up that line as if they’re going to be together forever. The reality is, they probably will be together a lot, but we also need to be aware that sometimes it might be a benefit to shift Skinner with 'Mitzy', or Tuch with 'Mitzy', depending on matchups.”
Dustin Tokarski will be in goal on Saturday, while Craig Anderson will get the crease on Sunday in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.
When asked about goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Adams didn’t really know when the 22-year-old would be back in Buffalo.
Luukkonen has played two games in the American Hockey League since coming back from his ankle injury. Against the Providence Bruins, he gave up two goals on 25 shots, losing in a shootout. Against the Bridgeport Islanders, Luukkonen won, allowing two goals on 34 shots.
“'UPL' proved to himself, more than anyone else, that he belongs in this league, and he has a chance to be a really good goaltender," he said. "I think that was a mental process that he went through, and we really believe in what he’s going to be for us. But right now, that’s Rochester, because he’s going to get to play a lot and he’s played really well. If he winds up being back here, that’s great too. Whatever we think makes the most sense for him and his progression to keep getting better.”
We always hear about Owen Power, Jack Quinn or Peterka, but what about No. 1 picks Isak Rosen and Ryan Johnson?
Rosen was taken with the 14th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, which was the pick Buffalo acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers for Rasmus Ristolainen. He’s been playing out this season in the Swedish Hockey League.
“Typically for young players, it’s hard in the SHL. That’s a man's league, so he was not getting a ton of ice-time," Adams explained. "Then he’d go down a level and play more, and he was starting to play really well. Then he broke his finger, so we knew drafting him that this was going to take time. He was 158 pounds when we drafted him, but his gifts, his elite speed and ability to score were the top-end of that draft, so now we just have to be patient.”
Meanwhile, Johnson was the 31st overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, which was the pick Buffalo got from the St. Louis Blues in the Ryan O’Reilly trade. He’s in his junior season at the University of Minnesota, and it’s important the Sabres get him signed after his season ends. If Johnson stays for his senior year, he would then be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.
“He’s a solid all-around player," Adams said. "He defends well, but he’s not overly big and physical. He’s got a good stick, he’s got good feet. He’s not overly offensive, but he makes good plays. He’s just one of those guys who's just a solid all-around hockey player.
"On that Minnesota hockey team, he has been playing big minutes. I know the head coach [Bob Motzko] very well, and he raves about him with his habits in practice and those things. It’s another player that we’re certainly excited about.”
This year, the NHL Trade Deadline is March 21. The Sabres have Colin Miller, Mark Pysyk, Will Butcher, Robert Hagg, Mark Jankowski, Cody Eakin, John Hayden, Vinnie Hinostroza, Caggiula, Anderson, Tokarski and Malcolm Subban on expiring contracts. Adams could try to move some of these guys to gain draft capital.
“I’m having meetings with our staff and not only going through our own players, but the entire league. So when I’m having conversations with general managers and they’re asking about a certain player, it’s right in front of me and I have a pretty good feel for whatever that team has and their prospects. That’s helpful," Adams said. "Trades generally take a lot of time, even trade deadline trades are worked weeks-and-weeks before, and we’re still at the point of checking in. The easiest thing is we have unrestricted free agents, and we’re asked what are we going to do.
“For me, it’s being open to anything and everything that we think is the right thing for our franchise and will make us better in the long-term.”
In the 2022 NHL Draft, the Sabres have three first round picks and one pick in every round after that. In 2023, Buffalo has three second round picks, and picks in every round except the third, which Buffalo sent to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Jack Eichel trade.
Join Brian and myself for pregame coverage on Saturday starting at 12 p.m. EST when we’ll be joined by Granato, Peyton Krebs and Casey Fitzgerald.