Rasmus Dahlin captured bronze, but Dylan Cozens was Sabres' biggest winner at Worlds


Staff member

Buffalo Sabres fans shouldn't worry about Dylan Cozens.

Any lingering doubts created by Cozens' disappointing season in Buffalo should be put to rest after the 23-year-old's outstanding performance at the IIHF World Championship in Czechia.

Cozens finished the tournament Sunday with his tournament-best ninth goal in Canada's 4-2 loss to Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and Sweden. Cozens had 11 points in 10 games to add to his sterling résumé at international tournaments. The 2019 first-round draft pick has 16 goals and 24 points in 20 games at two world championships. He also owns a pair of medals from the IIHF World Junior Championship, the second of which he earned with Canada after tallying 16 points in only seven games.

The latest performance strengthens Cozens' case to represent Canada at the NHL's Four Nations Face-off in February 2025, though there will be significant competition for roster spots. He had two shorthanded goals and four on the power play. Two of his nine were game-winners for Canada, which also rostered Sabres defensemen Owen Power and Bowen Byram. Cozens also won 51.85 percent of his faceoffs, a dramatic improvement from the 45.5 percent of the draws that he won during the regular season.

More importantly, Cozens used the past few weeks to regain the confidence he lost in Buffalo this season when he had 14 goals and 47 points while counting $7.1 million against the Sabres' salary cap.

The Sabres can help Cozens this summer by adding another center to take on some of the defensive responsibilities that impacted his offense this season. He had 13 fewer goals than 2022-23, when he produced 31 while earning a long-term contract. His shooting percentage also dropped from 14.7 percent to 9 as the Sabres' power play sank to among the worst in the league, and their former coach, Don Granato, used Cozens in more challenging situations.

Canada's Dylan Cozens celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's opening goal during the bronze medal match between Sweden and Canada at the Ice Hockey World Championships in Prague.
(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

An improved power play should also help Cozens rebound from a disappointing season in which several Sabres did not produce as expected.

"There’s not too many positives I’m going to take from this year for myself," Cozens said. "I know I disappointed a lot of people. I disappointed myself. But I have to just try and look at some positives. And that’s kind of my penalty kill, defensive game. I think that’s something I want to take a big step with is to kind of mold into that two-way player that I want to be, to develop that defensive side of my game.

"And now it’s time to put both those together. You know, the offensive game I had the year before and my defensive game now, I want to be that two-way, complete player. And, you know, I think I can do that."

Here is a glimpse at how the rest of the Sabres at the world championships performed over the past few weeks:

Owen Power​

Power took advantage of the chance to show Hockey Canada that he should be a candidate for its next Olympic team and, more recently, the NHL's Four Nations Face-off. He had one goal with six points in 10 games while skating on the top defense pair next to Colton Parayko of the St. Louis Blues. Power, 21, was active in the offensive zone, trusted by coaches to play in all situations and sparked Canada's 5-on-5 offense with his work on the breakout.

It continued Power's impressive run of play, which began around the NHL All-Star break after a challenging first half to the season.

Only Dahlin was on the ice for more Sabres goals at 5-on-5 after January 1 than Power (34), who signed a seven-year contract extension with Buffalo before the season began. The 2021 No. 1 draft pick had six goals with 33 points in 76 games, and he became more active in the defensive zone with blocked shots and hits. He also improved on the penalty kill and should be counted on to match or exceed the 22:55 of ice time that he averaged.

"I think, for myself, I’ve still got a lot of kind of room to grow into my body and get stronger," said Power, who is listed at 6-foot-6, 221 pounds. "I think that's going to be a big point this summer, is kind of just becoming stronger and more explosive."

Bowen Byram​

The tournament was an opportunity for Byram to rebuild his confidence after a challenging finish to the season in Buffalo. The defenseman had nine points in 18 games after his trade from Colorado, but it became apparent that he was overthinking. He didn't look comfortable playing on his off-hand side, either, so the Sabres moved him off the top pairing.

Byram, 22, looked tremendous at the world championships, though. He had only one goal with five points in nine games, but he did not hesitate to pinch in the offensive zone to help create scoring chances, and looked more decisive when defending around his own net. It must be encouraging for the Sabres to see Canada trust Byram enough to play him in various situations next to a proven veteran like Jamie Oleksiak of the Seattle Kraken. Byram was on the ice with Cozens and others during the final 90 seconds of regulation Sunday as Canada tried to tie the score.

Byram will benefit from having a full training camp in Buffalo, and he is among the Sabres who should improve defensively under Ruff.

"It’s tough," Byram said in April. "I feel like when I first got here I kind of just went out and played, and I thought I played some of my best hockey. But as time goes on, you’re trying to learn how the coaches want you to play, trying to learn new systems, and it can kind of make things difficult. I felt like, for a stretch, I was thinking too much on the ice, not just going out and playing.

When I go out and play and trust my instincts is when I play my best. I need to be accountable with myself. I wasn’t good enough for some parts, but it’s not easy, as well. So, it’s going to be very nice coming into training camp, everything, to kind of get my feet under me again and get going in the right direction."

Rasmus Dahlin​

Sweden's defense corps was the best at the tournament, led by Dahlin and Norris Trophy winners Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman. Dahlin was on a power-play unit with Hedman and skated next to Minnesota Wild's Jonas Brodin at even strength. Dahlin finished the tournament with two goals and nine points in 10 games. He scored the go-ahead goal in the third period of a 2-1 win over Finland that sent Sweden to the semifinals, showcasing his remarkable skill as he skated around a defender and beat the goalie with a low shot.

Dahlin is expected to represent Sweden at the NHL's Four Nations Face-off next season and during the 2026 Winter Olympics in France. In the meantime, though, he'll continue to be the Sabres' best overall player and top defenseman. He had a career-high 20 goals with 59 points this season, and the 24-year-old skated at least 29 minutes in seven consecutive games in February.

"I think my role moving forward is to lead by example," Dahlin said. "And some of the other guys, we saw that after the deadline, younger guys were stepping up and really pushing this team. ...

"My background is that you have to earn everything. And so you have to work hard. And our main core and this team have to work hard. Every single game, every single practice to be able to, to push all the other guys."

Victor Olofsson​

It's rare for a pending unrestricted free agent to participate in the tournament, but the Sabres gave Olofsson, 28, permission to represent Sweden after a season in which he had only seven goals and 15 points in 51 games for Buffalo. The winger did not fill the net in Czechia. He had only one goal and four points in nine games as Sweden captured bronze.

The performance won't have an impact on Olofsson's market this summer. He'll likely have to settle for a one-year contract less than the $4.75 million that he's made the past two seasons. The Sabres are ready to move on since they have forwards who can fill Olofsson's role on the power play – particularly Peterka and Jack Quinn – and he hasn't produced enough at 5-on-5 to hold off the prospects that are pushing for a spot in the NHL. Buffalo will use the cap savings to rebuild its third and fourth lines.

JJ Peterka​

Peterka, 22, has emerged as one of Germany's top players over the past two years, producing 11 goals with 21 points in 18 games at the world championships in 2023 and 2024. The winger was named the tournament's top forward last spring while leading the country to silver, and he is on track to be among the players selected to represent the Germans at the Winter Olympics when the NHL plans to participate in 2026. Germany lost to Switzerland in the quarterfinals to miss out on the medal round.

Success overseas has given Peterka's confidence a jolt in recent years, most notably this past season with the Sabres when he had career-highs in goals (28), assists (22), points (50) and average time on ice per game (16:24). He also earned a spot on their top line next to Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch, a trio that outshot opponents 107-74 and outscored them 13-5 at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The standard will change in Buffalo, though. Ruff won't tolerate careless turnovers or poor defense. Peterka will have to improve if he is going to be a fixture on the first or second line. He will also be dealing with the pressure of a contract year, as the 2020 second-round draft pick is scheduled to become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2025.

"I think it was just with, like, more details," Peterka said in April when asked about the difference in his game this season. "I think I was paying more attention in the D zone. I think just being more responsible on the ice, know who are you against, and know what time is it on the clock and stuff like that, just, like, little things."