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31 in 31

Top prospects for Buffalo Sabres

Cozens, Luukkonen recovering from surgery; Olofsson could boost scoring

by Heather Engel / Independent Correspondent is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the top five prospects for the Buffalo Sabres, according to


[Sabres 31 IN 31: Season preview | 3 Questions | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]


1. Dylan Cozens, F

How acquired: Selected with No. 7 pick in 2019 NHL Draft

Last season: Lethbridge (WHL): 68 GP, 34-50-84

Cozens (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) had surgery on his left thumb July 3 after injuring it during development camp. With an estimated recovery time of 2-3 months, he likely won't participate in the Prospects Challenge in September and could miss training camp, which would be his first in the NHL, that month.

"The way he plays, he pushes the pace quite a bit out there," Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said. "Versatility, playing center, playing wing, his ability to play a two-way game, there were so many different attributes. ... There's a drive in him, a motivating factor in his work ethic and a knowledge of what he has to work on in his game. That really came across in the meetings. He was driven to become a National Hockey League player."

If he's cleared before camp is over, he certainly will get a look, but the Sabres don't plan on rushing him. Even before the injury, the 18-year-old was expected to return to Lethbridge this season with a chance to play for Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"Probably the best thing for any player is to go back to junior and have that other year of development," Botterill said. "But we'll see how the summer goes. As we've talked about before, Dylan is a very good athlete. He has great size and a great frame. But he does certainly need to get stronger."

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

Video: 31 in 31: Buffalo Sabres 2019-20 season preview


2. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, G

How acquired: Selected with No. 54 pick in 2017 NHL Draft

Last season: Rochester (AHL): 1 GP, 1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .941 SV%; Sudbury (OHL): 53 GP, 38-11-2, 2.50 GAA, .920 SV%

The 20-year-old is the Sabres' goalie of the future. He led the Ontario Hockey League in wins and save percentage, and tied for the league lead with six shutouts last season.

"Ukko-Pekka, he's a great goalie, he's a big guy, he's calm in the net and that brings confidence for the team," said Sabres defenseman Henri Jokiharju, Luukkonen's teammate with Finland at the 2018 and 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. 

Luukkonen (6-4, 196) had hip surgery in April, with a recovery time of up to six months. Once healthy, he'll be in goal for Rochester.

"We were very pleased with his professional debut [against] Belleville and look forward to a strong offseason of training as he begins the rehabilitation process," Rochester general manager Randy Sexton said.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season


3. Victor Olofsson, F

How acquired: Selected with No. 181 pick in 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Buffalo: 6 GP, 2-2-4; Rochester (AHL): 66 GP, 30-33-63

Olofsson (5-11, 181) shined in his first NHL call-up late in the season. With the Sabres in need of secondary scoring, the 24-year-old will have the opportunity to become an NHL regular after an impressive first season in North America.

"He works hard in both directions with equal speed, and a scoring player who's young like that has to first of all be able to play without the puck to be able to break into this roster," Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger said. "He's definitely an exciting player for the future."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

Video: OTT@BUF: Olofsson rips one-timer past Daccord for PPG


4. Mattias Samuelsson, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 32 pick in 2018 NHL Draft

Last season: Western Michigan University (NCAA): 35 GP, 5-7-12

The 19-year-old will return to college for his sophomore season as one of four alternate captains. 

Samuelsson (6-4, 217) gained valuable experience in his first college season and at the 2019 World Junior Championship, where he finished second with the United States. He's in the mix to make the U.S. roster for the 2020 WJC.

"If you look at the player he was (in) September, October of last year to where he finished, I think he developed his game on all sides of the puck," Sabres assistant general manager Steve Greeley said. "He started to turn into a player that Western Michigan could really count on as a freshman, played big minutes against top lines in other programs, and he was able to start having more of an impact on the offensive side of the game."

Projected NHL arrival: 2021-22


5. Ryan Johnson, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 31 pick in 2019 NHL Draft

Last season: Sioux Falls (USHL): 54 GP, 6-19-25

Johnson (6-0, 173) will begin his college career this fall at the University of Minnesota. 

The Sabres like his mobility and smarts. Director of amateur scouting Ryan Jankowski said the offensive side of Johnson's game "can still come, but even if it doesn't we know we've got a new-age defenseman that can move the puck and skate."

The 18-year-old played for the U.S. at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan, and will be a candidate to play for the U.S. at the 2020 World Junior Championship.

Projected NHL arrival: 2022-23

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