Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2019 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Dylan Cozens of Lethbridge in the Western Hockey League hopes to someday become the third player from Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, to play in the NHL.
At the rate he's going, it's not a question of when, but how soon for the 17-year-old forward.
"There aren't too many guys out of Yukon and I'm so happy to be from here and have so much support," Cozens said. "There's a little pressure because I want to make everyone back in Whitehorse proud. I'm grateful for everyone who's helped get me to this point."
The two other Whitehorse natives to reach the NHL are forward Peter Sturgeon, chosen by the Boston Bruins in the second round (No. 36) of the 1974 NHL Draft before playing six games with the Colorado Rockies (1979-80). Defenseman Bryon Baltimore went undrafted but played two games with the Edmonton Oilers (1979-80).
Cozens improved his game after moving from Whitehorse to attend the Delta Academy in British Columbia when he was 14 years old. He had 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) in 25 games and was selected No. 19 by Lethbridge in the 2016 Western Hockey League bantam draft.
He wasted little time making an impression.
After three regular-season games with Lethbridge in 2016-17, Cozens seized his moment by scoring the game-tying goal 17:17 into the third period of a 5-4 overtime win at Medicine Hat in Game 7 of second round of the 2017 WHL playoffs.
"That was definitely the biggest goal of my career," Cozens said. "I remember the puck going up to the point and there was a little bit of traffic and I just tried to sneak in behind and the puck got through, and just slid into the crease and remember seeing it there. I froze for a second, and was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is it right here.'
"Afterwards, I was like, 'I just scored the game-tying goal in Game 7 as a 15-year-old.'"
Cozens followed up that memorable WHL debut with 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 57 regular-season games for Lethbridge last season on his way to becoming WHL Rookie of the Year. He also scored 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 16 playoff games.
Lethbridge coach Brent Kisio had a hunch Cozens was going to be something special after that first playoff performance.
"He's 15, and he ends up tying up the game with about three minutes to go in Game 7," Kisio said. "His skill and skating are incredible to watch. He carried that play into the next season and had a great year, and played a big part in the playoffs, again.
"I like his poise, presence and ability to seize big moments."
Cozens (6-foot-3, 181 pounds) ranks second on the Hurricanes with 41 points (16 goals, 25 assists) and a 1.37 points-per game average in 30 games this season. He was given an A rating in NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list and is a projected first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
"He's got huge upside with his size and ability to skate, and he gets behind people all the time," said John Williams, who evaluates talent in the WHL for NHL Central Scouting. "As he gets stronger and more physically heavier and faster, and all that comes together, he's going to be a real tough guy to handle."
One of the most impressive areas of Cozens' game as a big player is his skating.
"Anytime he gets the puck, he can challenge the defenseman wide and probably break it open for a really good chance," Kisio said. "His speed and how he handles the puck are some of his best assets."
Said Williams: "He's learning how to use that size and reach to lean on guys when you're going to the net and protecting the puck. He doesn't quite have that strength to hold guys off and do that yet, but it'll come. He's still a kid and he'll learn to take advantage of those areas when he fills out."
Kisio compares Cozens' style of game to that of Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter.
"He's gotten stronger and he's worked hard off the ice," Kisio said. "He's winning a lot more battles right now and we think he's rounding out his game. He's always been good on both sides of the puck, but he's really worked at it, and at playing good offensively and defensively."
Cozens is comfortable playing wing or center. He's filled each role this season.
"I'm supposed to be a top guy on my team this year and produce every night," Cozens said. "Since this is my draft year, there's some pressure, but you just have to know to block it out. I know there's going to be ups and downs, but you just have to keep a level head and not worry about that; focus on your game and get better every day."