Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by John Tonin

CALL FROM THE CAPTAIN – The highest drafted Yukon hockey player, Dylan Cozens, speaks with Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel after being drafted seventh overall by the team on Friday at the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

Dylan Cozens drafted seventh by Buffalo

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stepped onto the stage to a chorus of boos, his usual welcome, that reverberated throughout the Rogers Centre Arena.

By John Tonin on June 24, 2019

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stepped onto the stage to a chorus of boos, his usual welcome, that reverberated throughout the Rogers Centre Arena.

“The seventh pick in the 2019 NHL draft belongs to the Buffalo Sabres,” said Bettman as boos still rained down.

The Sabres general manager, Jason Botterill stepped to the microphone and said a sentence of historic proportion to the Yukon.

“With the seventh overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, the Buffalo Sabres are pleased to select from the Yukon, Dylan Cozens.”

“It was surreal,” said Cozens reflecting on the moment when he heard his name called.

“To start out from Whitehorse and Yukon… It is just such a good feeling. This is something I’ve worked for my whole life. I am so happy.”

The building erupted in ruckus cheers as Cozens, the highest drafted Yukon player ever stood up, hugged his family, shook hands with his friends and fellow draft-eligible players, and walked toward the stage. The anxiousness of waiting over.

“You are definitely very anxious,” said Cozens. “You see your good buddies go up and you are very happy for them. I have so many good relationships with all these draft guys and seeing them go ahead of me I was so happy for them.

“But, you know, you are waiting for that moment and you think ‘when is it going to be my turn?’… Every pick it takes three minutes but it feels like an hour and when you finally hear your name called it’s so much emotion that’s released. So much has been put into this moment and when it happens it’s unbelievable.”

As he walked toward the stage he took off his suit jacket in exchange for the blue and gold jersey of the Sabres and in doing so turned the entire Yukon territory into Buffalo Sabres fans.

Once he left the platform after getting his picture taken with the general manager, owner and other members of the Sabres draft party, he took his turn going through the media.

At the bottom of Rogers Arena, he took his seat as the media swarmed upon him. The smile hadn’t left his face as the questions came rapid-fire toward him. Before he got to the hockey talk he first acknowledged where he came from.

“It means so much,” said Cozens when asked about being the first Yukon player drafted in the first round. “I have so much support out there in the Yukon. There are so many people that are watching tonight and my phone is going to be absolutely blowing up when I check it after.

“I am so proud to represent the Yukon and I am so happy to be from there.”

Having finally made the first step in becoming an NHL player Cozens said he feels like a trailblazer for hockey in the territory.

“It does feel like that and it is just going to be crazier when I go back,” said Cozens. “I am happy to be that guy to pay it back for hockey in the Yukon.

“There is definitely some pressure there are just so many people that are talking about it and watching me and so many people that want me to succeed I didn’t want to let them down. Now that it’s here and the draft happened I’m so excited.”

When heading into the upcoming training camp for the Buffalo Sabres, Cozens touched on the lessons he learned while playing the Yukon that he will carry with him into his professional career.

“Just work as hard as you can and you can get what you want,” said Cozens. “It did seem like a far-fetched dream to play in the NHL when I was growing up there but now that I am drafted and the moment is here, it’s crazy.”

The “just work hard” mentality Cozens learned in the Yukon he will continue to apply because although he said he is good friends with the other top picks he is still going to strive to be the best player from the 2019 draft.

“Yeah. I want to be the best at everything I do and I am going to work as hard as I can to be that. There was a lot of good players who got drafted here and, you know, I’m going to work as hard as I can to reach my full potential and be the best I can be.”

In between media breaks once the Buffalo media personnel had left Cozens received a special phone call from Sabres captain Jack Eichel.

With phone pressed to ear, listening to the captain, the smile remained but the gravity of the moment began to set in.

“He said he is super excited to have me and as part of the organization,” said Cozens about the call. “(He said) make sure you enjoy it as much as I can it only happens once.

He said it goes by so quick it feels like just yesterday he got drafted but now he’s been five years in the league.

“That’s when it sets in. You are going to associated with these guys and a player like him, it’s so awesome. It’s so exciting.”

Cozens had worked out and had talks leading up to the draft and said the Sabres had shown interest in him.

“They went really well. I met with them at the combine and we went out for dinner as well and they were both really good meetings and I got a good vibe from them.

“I just felt they liked me as a player and I was one of the guys on their radar and it turns out I was.”

During the 2018-19 NHL season, the Sabres went on a 10 game winning streak in November that put them at the top of the standings. However, they regressed the rest of the season and were officially eliminated from the playoffs in March.

The Sabres currently hold the longest post-season drought in the NHL at eight consecutive seasons. Cozens said he feels he is ready to help the team and is willing to take any role that is asked of him.

“I can play winger or centre and I am happy doing either. Whatever they want me to play is what I’m going to play and I’m happy doing either. I just want to help the team win.

“They have lots of young players up and coming and hopefully I can fit in somewhere and I’m just super excited to help the team out and I’m really excited to go there.”

Getting drafted to the NHL is just the beginning of the journey but if his number is called he believes he will be ready for the big show.

“If I’m privileged enough to it and they want me to play I believe I’ll be ready for it,” said Cozens. “If not, I’ll go back to Lethbridge and lead that team there.”

Cozens was one of three players from the Western Hockey League drafted in the top 10.

The other two were Saskatoon Blades centre Kirby Dach, drafted third by the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Giants defenceman Bowen Byram, fourth to Colorado.

“The Western Hockey League has helped me get to where I am today,” said Cozens when asked how it felt about having three players drafted from the league in the top 10. “I don’t think I’d be there without them. The development of the league in preparing me for this moment and to get to do this with two other guys is just awesome.”

He was also very thankful to his junior team the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

“They helped me so much when they called me up at 15 and got to go in those playoffs they have given me every opportunity to succeed. They helped me get to this point so much and I’m so grateful.”

At the draft combine, Cozens said his skating was NHL ready but he still touched on what he feels he needs to work on to shine at the pro level.

“I know I have got to get stronger and just improve on everything,” said Cozens. “It’s a whole new level up there. The guys are way bigger and stronger and older than me.”

Cozens was accompanied at the draft by his parents, grandparents, brothers and friends.

He spoke about the sacrifices his parents made for him to make his dream a reality.

“They sacrificed so much for me to get to this point,” said Cozens about sharing this moment with his parents. “They let me move away at 14 years old, they sacrificed so much and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

He was thankful the draft was in Vancouver.

“It was very nice. It could have been so many places farther away but for it to end up being in Vancouver only a two-hour flight away is awesome.”

Before signing off with the media Cozens ended his media availability by once again acknowledging the Yukon.

“I’d like to say thank you for all the support,” said Cozens. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the people that believed in me up there and all the people that helped me get to this point. I am so excited to represent the Yukon. I want to thank them again for the support.”

The only other Yukon players drafted in the NHL were Peter Sturgeon (36th overall in 1974 by the Boston Bruins) and Bobby House (66th overall in 1991 by the Chicago Blackhawks).

DRAFT QUICK HITS

The Buffalo Sabres will be celebrating their 50th season in the NHL next year.

Cozens was one of 63 Canadian players chosen in the draft. The U.S.A had the second most players drafted with 59.

Defencemen were the most drafted in 2019 with 66 blue-liners picked. There were 54 centres and 75 total wingers taken.

Comments (6)

Up 8 Down 1

Groucho d'North on Jun 26, 2019 at 7:40 pm

Congratulations and well-earned Mr. Cozens. You are an inspiration for northern young people. Demonstrating you can go as far as you apply yourself. Well done & wishing you success in your future.

Up 11 Down 2

Kerry Huff on Jun 25, 2019 at 3:47 pm

Congratulations Dylan and family. Looking forward to drafting you in my hockey pool.

Up 12 Down 4

Jason on Jun 25, 2019 at 1:23 pm

Jarrett Deuling was drafted 56th overall in 1992 as well. So that makes three players from the Yukon.

Up 9 Down 3

Dean LaRue on Jun 25, 2019 at 11:35 am

Mike (and other Buffalo fans) - come visit us when Dylan brings THE CUP to WH
You won't be disapointed

Up 17 Down 4

Fred Norris on Jun 25, 2019 at 9:39 am

All you kids out there, this is what happens when you work hard, eat right, hit the gym, just one more lap, one more rep, one more shot. Focus on your goal, no matter what you aspire to do, and you will succeed. This young man has a long career ahead of him. I’ll come say hi to you Dylan when you bring the cup to Whitehorse.

Up 25 Down 4

Mike on Jun 25, 2019 at 3:55 am

Buffalo is proud to have one of your boys on our team. It's a blue collar city where people still work hard to put a roof over their head and food on the table. There are many good young players maturing in the farm system and good things are coming in the near future for the Sabres.
Welcome Dylan and thanks Yukon !

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