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'He couldn't stop smiling' | Cozens reacts to 1st NHL goal

Rookie scored against Washington on Friday

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Dylan Cozens surveyed his options upon poking the puck free from Brian Pinho and gaining possession in the neutral zone. 

To his left, Cody Eakin appeared to have a step on his man. Tobias Rieder trailed as a second passing option. As Cozens drifted into the right faceoff circle, he made his decision. 

The 19-year-old ripped a shot of his own behind goaltender Vitek Vanecek and into the far-side corner of the net for the first goal of his NHL career. 

Video: BUF@WSH: Cozens picks off puck, buries first NHL goal

"It was a special moment and also a grade A goal," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. "He really picked his spot, top corner and the whole bench was really ecstatic. It's a special moment when you see somebody with that skillset, that future with the Buffalo Sabres, you know that's a historic moment. 

"He couldn't stop smiling, actually, the rest of the game."

Cozens was mobbed by teammates Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall and greeted with an embrace from his coach upon returning to the bench.

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: Congrats on your first @NHL goal, @Dylan_Cozens! The first of many 🙌#LetsGoBuffalo pic.twitter.com/56tlgNQPaZ

"It was just a lot of excitement," Cozens said. "I mean, obviously it's something I've dreamed about my whole life. To finally put one in the back of the net, it's exciting."

Cozens got his first taste of NHL competition during the 2019 preseason, only months removed from being drafted by the Sabres with the No. 7 pick. He returned to Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League with sights set firmly on adding traits he knew would be necessary to make the jump to Buffalo.

Cozens tallied 85 points (38+47) and served as captain during the abridged season with Lethbridge and was named a finalist for the league's player of the year award. He spent the long offseason adding strength to his 6-foot-3 build, work that paid off during a dominant performance amongst his peers at the World Junior Championship earlier this month. His 16 points in the tournament were the most by a Canadian player since Brayden Schenn in 2011.

Upon his late arrival to Sabres camp, Cozens quickly looked the part of a player who belonged. Krueger praised the rookie's commitment to backchecking and the game away from the puck. Eric Staal, who is situated next to Cozens in the dressing room, complimented the rookie's poise. 

Cozens nearly added a second moment in the game on Friday. Riding the hot hand, Krueger called upon the rookie during the shootout. Seeing Vanecek's glove drop, Cozens attempted to beat the goaltender high with a hard wrist shot. 

Vanecek seemed to unknowingly stop the shot. The puck bounced off the goaltender and dribbled in front of him in the blue paint.

"I was happily surprised when he called on me," Cozens said. "But at the same, he trusts me that much to put me in a shootout so I was happy to go. It's an unfortunate result but we've got to reset and get ready for the next one."

The way things are trending, there should be plenty more chances.

"He's going to be a very good player for a long time in this league," Staal said. "… Great play by him. Hopefully he just continues to make strides and take steps. He's learning every day."

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