Dylan Cozens wants to be a team leader

The rookie feels he'll be even better next season

Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Even though Dylan Cozens seemed to hit a wall near the end of his first season in the NHL, I thought he was excellent, especially from a maturity standpoint.

The 20-year-old was taken in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft and played 41 games for the Buffalo Sabres this year. Yes, he only scored four goals and nine assists for 13 points, but that was after two long quarantines, playing for Team Canada in the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship and getting COVID-19.

This kid was one of the few players on this roster that was always there for a teammate and figured out how the NHL game is played. I wrote earlier this season, and am even more convinced, that if Jack Eichel is no longer with the organization come October, Cozens should be named the captain immediately. There aren’t many kids his age that could handle it, but he certainly can.

In my mind, Eichel was no where near ready to be captain when he was named, but the team didn’t want him mad or upset, so they gave it to him. Many feel he still isn’t a leader.

Cozens knows there’s a chance that Eichel and Sam Reinhart could be gone next season. He said he doesn’t want that, but if it happens he’ll be ready to step up and be more of a leader.

With all that he had to go through, I had a chance to ask Cozens if he felt he hit a wall at the end.

“The last stretch for me I didn’t really produce like I’d like to finish, so I would say I definitely was not my best there in finishing off the season," the rookie said during his end-of-season conference call.

“This year was not how I envisioned my first year in the NHL. I learned how hard it is to play in this league. It was a long year for me, but there are no excuses there. So I need to take a little bit of a mental break and then get after it, because it’s going to be a big summer for me. I have high expectations for myself, and I want to comeback next year way better and be a difference maker and be a guy that can produce.”

Cozens went his last 20 games without a goal and his last eight without a point, but he got valuable experience on how to react when your body is dead tired and your mind has been through so much. I have no worries at all that he isn’t the real deal.

“There are a lot of things I’m going to take from this year," Cozens said. "I learned a lot, and I’m going to use that to build my game in the offseason.”

When you think of young captains in the NHL, you have to think of Sidney Crosby, Steve Yzerman and Jonathan Toews. Cozens just talks like a kid that can handle it.

“I’m still a very young player in this league, so I don’t expect guys to come in and look at me as a leader this soon. But I want to be a leader on this team, for sure, and a guy that can be someone that guys can look to and talk to," Cozens said. "Obviously as a young guy right now, I don’t expect that, but I do expect it out of myself and in the future for sure. I want to be here for a long time, and I want to be a leader here for a long time.”

I don’t think much more needs to be said.

In case you missed Cozens' end-of-season conference call, you can listen to it below:

On a different topic, Sabres third round pick from 2017, Oskari Laaksonen has made the AHL North Division All-Star team in just his first season in North America. Laaksonen had two goals and 15 assists for 17 points in 28 games with the Rochester Americans.

Before coming to training camp this season, Laaksonen played 20 games for the Pelicans in the Finnish Liiga, netting four goals and eight assists for 12 points. Laaksonen will be 22-years-old in July.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman - Getty Images