Dylan Cozens (6-foot-3, 181 pounds), No. 3 in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver on June 21-22, is writing a monthly diary this season for NHL.com leading up to the draft. The 18-year-old forward is in his second season with Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League. Winner of the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as WHL Rookie of the Year last season, Cozens was second with Lethbridge this season with 84 points (34 goals, 50 assists) in 68 games.
Hello again hockey fans.
The WHL regular season is over and we're excited to begin the WHL playoffs against Calgary in Game 1 of our best-of-7 first round series at home at Enmax Centre in Lethbridge on Friday. We won five of six games against Calgary this season so we fared well against them. We won 7-4 on March 9 in our most recent game against them so I think we're pretty confident going into the playoffs right now. But you've always got to keep an even keel and we can't take them lightly. We just have to focus on playing our game every night; we can't take days off.
In the playoffs anything can happen, and the teams usually play a different style so we can't just think about what we did during the regular season because it's going to be completely different now. I believe with the team and players we have, we can go all the way. We closed out the regular season with an eight-game winning streak, so we've been playing well and ended the regular season on a positive note.
We're starting to heat up at the right time and I think we're all really confident with the way the team is playing right now so we just have to focus on playing the same way and not changing anything up for playoffs.
We worked on a couple of things and structure during practice this week, but we know how we need to play and what we need to do. We're not going to try and change up too much for playoffs, so not a lot changes in practice. The guys are just focused and ready to go.
To me the playoffs are such an exciting time. There's no room for error really. You have to manage shifts so well because everyone is working so much harder and the atmosphere inside the building is great. When in the opposing barn it becomes a lot harder. And because you're playing the same team, a rivalry begins within the series. Playoff time is really good hockey but it's tough for sure.
The biggest thing I learned from last year's playoffs -- we lost in six games in the WHL semifinals against Swift Current, which won the league championship -- was the importance of sticking to the team structure. We were kind of the underdogs going into the playoffs last year after we traded our captain (Giorgio Estephan) and our starting goalie (Stuart Skinner) just before the trade deadline. Nobody really thought we had much of a chance of going anywhere, but we just played well as a team and played hard and teams struggled to beat us in our building, so that's the biggest thing.
When we're at home we need to take advantage and focus on playing hard and sticking to the team structure and things should work out well for us.
As far as assessing my regular season, I think the biggest thing I focused on in the summer was to improve my acceleration, my first three steps, because I think once I get up to speed I'm pretty hard to defend and pretty dangerous, so that's the biggest thing I worked on this season.
The one area of my game that's a work in progress is face-offs. I've had games where I was winning everything and some where it wasn't working out too good, so that's definitely something I want to improve. I want to study face-offs; I know I can definitely be better.
Until next month, thanks for reading.