Sabres' Dylan Cozens among Canada's top players at world championships


Staff member

The Sabres' Dylan Cozens celebrates after scoring in overtime for Canada against host Czechia on Tuesday at the IIHF World Championship. Associated Press

Dylan Cozens didn’t want the Buffalo Sabres’ season finale in April to be the last game that he played until the fall.

An invitation to represent Canada at the IIHF World Championship in Czechia was an opportunity for Cozens to get back to scoring goals and having fun. He didn’t experience enough of either during his fourth season in the NHL.

The trip overseas has been a resounding success for the Sabres’ 23-year-old center. Cozens has scored a tournament-leading eight goals, and he has at least one in each of his past six games as Canada prepares to play Slovakia in the quarterfinals starting at 10:20 a.m. Thursday in Prague.

Only four players at the tournament have produced more than Cozens’ 10 points in seven games: Matt Boldy, Brady Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau for the United States and Roman Josi for Switzerland. Cozens scored twice Tuesday, including in overtime, to lift Canada to a 4-3 win over Czechia.

“I think this is the most motivated I’ve ever been,” Cozens told reporters in April. “I think all of us feel that way. We all know we can be better. We all know we need to be better. And I think every guy in here will be better. And there’s a lot of guys I think that didn’t quite have the season they wanted to, so you know, we all just got to be hungry, hungry for more, and hungry to achieve more and be better as a team.”

He isn’t the only Sabres player having success in Czechia, either.

JJ Peterka has five goals and nine points in seven games for Germany, which will face Switzerland in the quarterfinals also at 10:20 a.m. Thursday in Ostrava. The 22-year-old winger was named the tournament’s best forward last year, when he had 12 points in 10 games to help his country win silver. He had a four-point game against Kazakhstan last week in the preliminary round.

It’s an impressive encore for Peterka after his breakout season with the Sabres. His 28 goals were second on the team behind Tage Thompson, and Peterka’s 50 points ranked fourth on the Sabres. Peterka, a second-round draft pick in 2020, averaged a career-high 16:24 of ice time during his second season in the NHL.

Sabres defensemen Owen Power and Bowen Byram are skating next to St. Louis’ Colton Parayko and Seattle’s Jamie Oleksiak, respectively, for Team Canada. Power has one goal and five points in seven games, while Byram has one goal with four points in six games. Byram served a one-game suspension Tuesday for slashing Finland’s Jesse Puljujarvi. The tournament has helped Byram rebound from some of the struggles that he endured following his midseason trade from Colorado to Buffalo.

Byram still managed to produce three goals and six assists in 18 games with the Sabres after he arrived in the trade that sent Casey Mittelstadt to Colorado.

Sweden has yet to lose at the tournament entering its quarterfinal matchup against Finland at 2:20 p.m. Thursday in Ostrava. Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin has appeared in each of Sweden’s seven games, producing one goal and five points. The 24-year-old also received a match penalty during a win over Latvia for a high hit that officials determined was charging.

This is the second time in three years that Dahlin has represented Sweden at the tournament, and he’s expected to be among their top players at the NHL’s Four Nations Faceoff next season involving Sweden, Finland, Canada and the United States. The 2018 No. 1 pick is among the top options for Sweden’s defense corps, which includes Norris Trophy winners Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson.

Sabres winger Victor Olofsson is expected to sign elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent in July, but he’s playing for Sweden at the tournament to prove to NHL teams that he can be a useful addition for next season. Olofsson has one goal and four points in six games. The 28-year-old winger had seven goals and 15 points in 51 games this season with Buffalo after he totaled a career-high 28 goals in 2022-23.

Though Cozens has six years left on his contract, the tournament is arguably more important to him than any of the Sabres playing overseas. He needed the confidence boost after a challenging season in which he had 18 goals and 47 points in 79 games while counting $7.142 million against Buffalo’s salary cap. The 2019 first-round pick scored 13 more goals and produced 21 more points in 2022-23.

The semifinals are scheduled for Saturday in Prague, and the medal round will be held Sunday in Prague. The games are available to watch on NHL Network in the United States and TSN in Canada.