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May 28th, 2022 by Steven Ellis - The Hockey News

France, Kazakhstan and Italy aren’t exactly hockey powers, and laying a beating on any of them doesn’t really inspire greatness, either.

But none of these games are easy. Just watch how much of a challenge playing against Kazakhstan was. Or Denmark, who beat Canada for the first time ever.

The IIHF World Hockey Championship is the longest international tournament of the year, and for teams like Canada and the United States, they have to come together so quickly, while the other teams may have already played in three of more tournaments together this year – with much of the same core remaining the same year after year.

Heck, Canada only finished third in Group A despite featuring a team full of NHLers. Switzerland and Germany weren’t full of them – and unlike Canada, they didn’t make the final four.

So, Dylan Cozens’ play in his first men’s international tournament is notable. He’s been counted on to work with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Drake Batherson on Canada’s top line, and sits third in team scoring with four goals and nine points. His four goals are second behind Dubois for the team lead.

Cozens’ hat-trick against Kazakhstan was big, while his two assists for Slovakia helped Canada overcome an opponent with something to prove after winning bronze in Beijing. Sure, his points have come in multiples, and against subpar competition, but standing out in those games can still matter, and that’s why coach Claude Julien continues to give Cozens more ice time in all situations. He trusts him and what he can do, despite being one of the more inexperienced forwards in the lineup.

Since Cozens’ incredible 16-point run at the 2021 World Junior Championship, this is the first truly meaningful hockey Cozens has played in his pro career. And that’s not to say he hasn’t played good hockey yet. He had 13 goals and 38 points this season and seemed to get better and gain more confidence as the season wore on.

Cozens mainly centered Buffalo’s third line and even played alongside Rasmus Asplund, Sweden’s scoring star at the world’s. Buffalo isn’t ready to be a contender yet, but they’re building something worth watching, and as they continue to add more key pieces and Cozens continues to make a case for more ice time, the better linemates will come.

Cozens, 21, was selected seventh overall in 2019. The year before, Buffalo snagged Rasmus Dahlin first overall. Last year, Owen Power. The Sabres are building a core group, and Cozens is one of the key pieces upfront in the wake of the Jake Eichel era.

The World Championship can be a good confidence booster for any player, especially for those who didn’t make the playoffs and never were really in contention to begin with. In Cozens’ case, his two-way game has been solid, his competitiveness level is there and he’s skating as well as ever. Playing with some high-quality players has been beneficial, and he’s been willing to take risks for big offensive plays because he can trust the guys around him.

And as the Sabres trend towards the top of the standings in the future, that’s only going to continue to happen. Cozens is a huge part of Buffalo’s future, and if you a Sabres fan, you have to love what you’ve seen from his play in Finland.

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