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Cozens recovering from thumb surgery, still eyes spot with Sabres

Center was No. 7 pick in 2019 NHL Draft, expects to play in Prospects Challenge

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Dylan Cozens is confident he'll be cleared to play for the Buffalo Sabres at the 2019 Prospects Challenge, which starts Sept. 6 at HarborCenter in Buffalo.

The center, selected by the Sabres with the No. 7 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, had surgery in early July to repair a dislocated left thumb sustained June 29. He was expected to need 2-3 months to recover, but said he's been shooting pucks since Aug. 15, which was the first time he was on the ice since the injury.

"I was able to get out there and feel the puck a bit and I was able to rip it as hard as I normally can," Cozens said during the NHLPA Rookie Showcase at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Sunday. "I'm not fully cleared yet, but I hope to be as soon as possible. There's no rushing things. I don't want to rush it. But right now, I can shoot.

"I want to be cleared for that (Prospects Challenge) and I'm optimistic for that. I feel like I have a good chance of being ready for that, but you never know. We'll see by then."

Video: Sabres draft F Dylan Cozens No. 7

Cozens sustained the injury during a 3-on-3 scrimmage on the final day of Sabres development camp.

"The puck was going to the wall and I tried to chip it around the [defenseman] and dodge him to the inside and he kind of clipped me a little bit," he said. "It was awkward, and I fell right down on my thumb, perfectly straight on my thumb, all my weight went down on it, and it shot it back.

"The moment I landed on the ice ... I felt, 'Oh boy, let's see which way this thing is sticking out.' I knew it was dislocated, I could just feel it. And I took my glove off and saw it and said that was pretty gnarly looking."

With playing in the Prospects Challenge, which includes top prospects from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils, now a possibility, Cozens said he hopes to have a full training camp to show the Sabres he can play in the NHL this season.

"I believe I do have a shot at making the team," he said. "Obviously not too many 18-year-olds make it, but I feel I have the size, I have the skating, I have the strength to be a guy who can step in at a young age. Obviously, I want to play when I'm ready and if they think I need another year to develop then I'll be happy with that, I'll be happy to go back to Lethbridge (Western Hockey League) and play there. But my goal now is to make the (NHL) roster."

Video: Cozens shares his journey from Whitehorse to Buffalo

During his rehabilitation Cozens has been skating with Sabres goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who is recovering from April surgery to repair a torn labrum in each hip.

Luukkonen, a second-round pick (No. 54) in the 2017 NHL Draft, was expected to need six months to recover.

"We've been doing a good job in Buffalo and the trainers there have helped me a lot," Luukkonen said. "Feeling good already. I hope I'll be back as soon as possible."

The 20-year-old said he began feeling pain in his right hip after helping Finland win the gold medal at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. He also played for Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League and was named the best goalie and most valuable player in the OHL last season. Luukkonen finished the season with one game with Rochester, the Sabres' American Hockey League affiliate.

After the season he decided to have both hips fixed. He's progressed to where he can get on the ice and do goalie-specific drills.

"It's just for now going on the limits of my own comfort and not to push it too much," he said. "It's been good."

Luukkonen said he isn't sure if he'll be ready for training camp, and likely will start the season with Rochester. But the NHL remains the goal this season.

"Of course, you have to earn it," he said. "I had a good year last year and I will start to build from that. Then I will see where it takes me."

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