Cozens and Johnson eager to get to work with the Sabres

Both of Buffalo's first round picks are in town for development camp this week

Brayton Wilson
June 25, 2019 - 10:52 am

Photo: Brayton J. Wilson (@BJWilsonWGR)

For the first time since the 2019 NHL Combine, both Dylan Cozens and Ryan Johnson are back in the city of Buffalo. This time, they will both be suiting up for the Buffalo Sabres this week at development camp at Harborcenter.

The Sabres took Cozens with the seventh overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft on Friday, and followed that by taking Johnson with the 31st overall pick of the first round. It is the first time since the 2013 NHL Draft where the Sabres had two selections in the first round of the draft.

The two first rounders met with the media for the first time in Buffalo since being drafted by the Sabres in Vancouver, and both are excited to get to work this week in their first development camp.

"It's definitely very exciting. My first NHL camp is something I've dreamed about for my whole life," Cozens said. "To finally be here is very exciting."

"It's been unbelievable. It's been really exciting, and I'm just grateful for this opportunity," said Johnson. "I'm just looking forward to the future."

When Cozens and Johnson arrived in town for the combine, they were primarily busy with the interview process in and around KeyBank Center, and never got a chance to experience the city or get an in-depth look into the inner workings of the Sabres organization. Now that they are officially Sabres property, it was time for them to get acclimated with their new home.

"Just getting a tour of the dressing room, being in the city and just walking around and people recognizing me; it's pretty cool," Cozens said. "It's definitely setting in that I'm starting to live my NHL dream."

Coming from Whitehorse, Yukon, Cozens is the first player from the Yukon Territory to ever be drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft. In all, just two NHL players have ever come out of the Yukon in Peter Sturgeon and Bryon Baltimore. They combined to play in just eight games total in the NHL.

Now that Cozens has been drafted by the Sabres, it has put the city of Buffalo on the map for many hockey fans in Whitehorse.

"Lots of people [are> saying how Buffalo just got 35,000 new fans," Cozens said. "Everyone is supporting, and [the Sabres are> going to be most of Whitehorse's new favorite team. It's pretty cool."

The 18-year-old left home at the age of 14 to go play his junior hockey in British Columbia, and found himself playing in the Western Hockey League with the Lethbridge Hurricanes just two years later. This past season with the Hurricanes, Cozens went on to have a stellar year with 34 goals and 84 points in 68 games played. He also had a strong outing for Team Canada at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Sweden, where he scored four goals and registered nine points in seven games.

One thing that Cozens has picked up quickly in the few days that he has been in Buffalo is how passionate the fans are of their hockey team. Many of the fans in town have already recognized Cozens as being Buffalo's first round pick, which gets him excited for his future with the Sabres.

"It's definitely a hockey town," said Cozens. "You can just tell by everything that it's just a sports town and [the fans> want to win and they're hungry for success."

Cozens is hoping that his first season in Buffalo will land him a spot with the Sabres as an 18-year-old, as well as the start of a long NHL career. However, he understands that if he is not ready to make that jump to the NHL right away, he will head back to the WHL and continue to work towards his NHL dream with the Sabres.

"I know I have a lot of work to do if I want to make the jump. If I'm privileged enough to, I think I'll be ready for it to play next year," Cozens said. "If not, I'll go back to Lethbridge and I'll lead my team there and develop new leadership skills."

However, if he did make it to the NHL right from the start, Cozens says that he'll do whatever it takes to help the Sabres win.

"I can play center and wing. I see myself as a centerman, but if they want to play me in my first year as a winger, I'm definitely willing to do that and happy to do that."

As for Johnson, he only got into Buffalo in the early morning hours on Tuesday. He hasn't quite been able to have the chance to explore the city like Cozens has, but he remembers how nice the city looked in his brief time during the combine.

"The city is beautiful. It's unbelievable, and it's been really nice to me so far," Johnson said. "Just really happy to be here."

Johnson did not have quite the path to the NHL that Cozens did.

The 17-year-old grew up in California while his father, Craig, was playing his NHL hockey with the Los Angeles Kings and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. After playing a number of younger his days in California, Johnson made the jump to the United States Hockey League this past year and played with the Sioux Falls Stampede. In his first season, Johnson ended the year with six goals and 25 points in 54 games. He went on to also put up two goals and eight points in 12 playoff games en route to helping the Stampede win a Clark Cup championship.

California is a non-traditional hockey market that is starting to gain some more steam with the development of players who came from in state. Johnson is proud to represent California on his path to the NHL, and knows that more players from non-traditional markets are starting to make their mark on the game.

"Being from California, it's a different hockey hub. Cam York was selected too (by the Philadelphia Flyers). He came out of California as well. I think California is producing more players, and it's good to see that hockey is growing there as well. I'm just fortunate to be from there."

Johnson also had his dad to be an influence on his way to being drafted. His dad ended up playing 557 games in the NHL with five different teams, and understands what it takes to get to this level.

Craig Johnson's best advice for his son this week was to have fun at development camp, and just know that the work is never done.

"My dad just says to take it all in, just enjoy it, and have fun with it," Ryan said. "It's just the start of another journey. He just says that my work has paid off, but you have a long ways to go."

The young defenseman is set to start his freshman season at the University of Minnesota this fall.

This week's development camp is set to start on Wednesday with three days of training and practice sessions at Harborcenter before Saturday's 3-on-3 French Connection Tournament. The goal for both players is quite simple: take in the experience and just have fun.

"Just to have fun and enjoy it," Cozens said. "I haven't skated in a while just because there is no ice up home. Just have to go out, break myself in again and just go out and enjoy it.

"They told me that they're not evaluating me. It's just something that they want me to enjoy. To go out there and have fun."

While development camp is often run by Rochester Americans head coach Chris Taylor and his staff, as well as some assistance from the Harborcenter's development staff, Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger is likely going to take in some of the week's sessions and get an early look at the potential future of his team.

At the NHL Draft, Krueger was in attendance and got the chance to meet up with both of the first round picks. His conversations with both Cozens and Johnson left both young players feeling good about the direction this team is heading in.

"In the second round, I went back and watched, and sat in the stands with Ralph and talked to him for a long time. He was a really good person," Cozens said. "He seems like a really good coach who gets it, and someone who I'm excited to play for one day.

"He just sees it from a player's standpoint and what it's like. He understands how to interact with players and be a coach. It's exciting to see that."

"I had a good conversation as well," Johnson said. "He's a really personable coach, and he seems like a great guy, and a great coach as well."

The first session of development camp gets underway at 1 p.m. on Wednesday at Harborcenter. All sessions from Wednesday through Friday are free and open to the public.

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