The Lethbridge Hurricanes will have a little stronger offense Friday night as they host the Red Deer Rebels, with forward Dylan Cozens returning to the lineup after an impressive first NHL training camp performance with the Buffalo Sabres.
The 18-year-old was drafted 7th overall by the Sabres in June at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, and despite undergoing off-season hand surgery he participated in the team’s preseason prospect and main camps.
Cozens was reassigned back to junior Thursday by the Sabres, meaning a third full season with the Hurricanes for the Yukon-born forward, who will jump straight into the lineup Friday after arriving in Lethbridge less than 24 hours before puck-drop.
“I’m excited. Definitely a quick turnaround from getting in last night, but to hop into the lineup and just go out there and play again with some of my best friends, it’s something I’m so excited for,” said Cozens.
The group features some new teammates for Cozens to quickly build chemistry with after the Hurricanes’ roster underwent massive off-season turnover.
“I’m just excited to see all the new faces and meet everyone, and just have a good time this year,” he said.
In June, Cozens became the highest NHL draft pick in Hurricanes’ history — as well as the first Yukon-born player to go in the first round — and now he will look to improve on the 84 points (34G, 50A) he listed in his draft year.
He said the lessons learned during his time in Buffalo will prove to be invaluable experience.
“Just going out there and playing against some of the top players in the NHL, I learned a lot,” he said.
“I learned how fast it was and coming back here, I’m not going to go back down to WHL speed, I’m going to play at an NHL speed and hopefully the guys can play with that NHL speed too.”
After a quick morning meeting with the returning forward Friday, Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio said he has no doubt Cozens will be a force for his team.
“We had a good talk this morning,” said Kisio.
“We’re very proud of what he went up there… he got a good experience there. But he’s excited to get back and you know he’s back with his peer group, and we feel he can have a very dominant year for us and help us win a lot of games.”
Cozens’ teammates also recognize the importance of having him back.
“It’s a huge boost,” said overage defenseman Koletrane Wilson, who has spent the past two seasons watching Cozens grow.
“You know, you look at him up in camp and when someone goes that deep in a preseason… he got a lot of reps up in the NHL and a lot of games in, so it’s going to be a big boost for our offense,” Wilson said.
The Hurricanes will also add veteran forward Logan Barlage back into the lineup, after the forward served a two-game suspension carrying over from last season’s first-round playoff exit.
With the two additions, the Hurricanes were forced to make some roster moves Friday afternoon.
Shortly before game time the team announced 2001-born forward Adam Hall had been released, as well as a season-ending injury for 2002-born forward Jacob Boucher.
The Hurricanes will host the Red Deer Rebels Friday night, a team that has also become a lot younger.
“You know, they lost a lot of their top older guys from last season,” said Wilson.
“So they got a lot of guys chomping at the bit and trying to prove something this year, just as we do too, so it should be a good game, and it should probably be a physical one too.”
The Hurricanes will then travel to Edmonton to take on the Oil Kings on Sunday afternoon.
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