Dylan Cozens stood out from the pack at the Hlinka-Gretzky Tournament this summer. His physical attributes made him look like a much more advanced player than his peers, even when they were some of the best junior players in the world. At the event, he confirmed his status as one of the premiere forward of this draft class.
Birthplace: Whitehorse, Yukon
Position: Centre/Right Wing
Weight: 181 lbs.
Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Cozens then went on to display his strengths in the WHL, reprising his pivot role on the top two lines after an almost point-per-game rookie season. He finished his draft season as the top scorer on his team and led all U18 forwards with his production of 84 points in 68 games.
Cozens doesn’t play an overly physical game, but his size remains an important advantage. At 6’3”, he towers over most other players on the ice. But what makes him truly intimidating is that on top being bigger than most junior defencemen, he is also much faster than them. He hustles hard, combining powerful strides with low foot action to lessen the time between each push. Defencemen have to respect Cozens’ speed, and have a hard time knocking him off balance or beating him to loose puck.
Although the forward isn’t as skilled a handler as he is a skater — being one of the better skaters in the draft class — he pulls off the occasional flashy and effective move on opponents in tight spaces, His hands, size and quick feet can combine for some dominant sequences.
While Cozens played most of the season as a centre, he can also slot in on the wing. He isn’t a solid defensive presence yet, but he is engaged and hunts the puck. On the attack, he can play an NHL-style cycle game, winning possession for his team on the boards, before driving to the periphery of the net to support the shots of his teammates.
Moreover, Cozens works hard, whether it be on the forecheck or off of a face-off, and once he retrieves it, he continues to work to protect the puck or to find space to be a scoring threat.
It is in this last aspect of his play that he shines, whether it be finding seams to support the play as a pass option, or finding the quiet ice in the offensive zone to be a shooting threat around the face-off circles and near the crease.
Beyond his ability to find space on the ice, Cozens can fire the puck hard in a catch-and-release motion — although he often prefers to face the passer, receive and quickly pivot to the net before firing. He is not one to beat goalies from afar, but his ability to find release spots closer to the slot fuelled his 34 goals this year and will help him score at every level.
He can also act as an effective setup man with his short passing game, attracting defenders onto him, before dropping the puck back or sliding it forward to a teammate.
Cozens’ attributes and abilities make him a very well-rounded player whose game projects well to the next levels of hockey, although his ability to drive plays for a line in the NHL could raise some doubts.
Likewise, the forward is not one to manipulate defenders’ skates and sticks in creative ways to open up holes in the defence. There is some use of misdirection in his game, but it remains a rare occurrence. He sees the ice well, but he doesn’t plan a few moves ahead like some of the other top prospects in this class.
However, not all NHL forwards need to quarterback the play. Cozens’ ability to find space to receive passes and create extend possession for his team will allow him to support players with better play-making skill sets.
It’s his effectiveness in a support game, both in transition and in the offensive zone (as reflected by his advanced stats), that will lead teams to value him highly at the draft.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Elite Prospects: #5
Future Considerations: #5
Hockey Prospect: #8
The Hockey News: #3
NHL Central Scouting: #5 (North American skaters)
Like many other players projected inside the top 10 or 12, Cozens’ selection will depend on his fit with a particular team. That being said, it’s very likely that the majority of the organizations at the very top of the draft will value him highly and are actively looking for a skater like Cozens.