VANCOUVER - Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said going into the first round of the NHL Draft that he expected to add a quality player with the seventh overall pick.
As the dominoes fell leading up to Buffalo's selection, Botterill and his staff were excited to see Dylan Cozens' name on the board.
"It wasn't just a line," Botterill said. "We knew we were going to get a very good player. We were very excited Dylan was there, but there were some talented players who went behind us, too. It was a talented draft this year."
The Sabres came away from Friday's first round with a pair of players who fit the organizational philosophy in terms of being able to play with pace. They selected a versatile centerman in Cozens with the seventh pick, then used the 31st pick on USHL defenseman Ryan Johnson.
Botterill said that reports from the Buffalo scouts on Cozens were consistent throughout the year, painting a picture of a mature, dedicated player with a unique blend of speed and size with his 6-foot-3, 183-pound frame. Multiple interviews over the past month reinforced those positive qualities.
Video: Dylan Cozens Media Scrum
"The way he plays, he pushes the pace quite a bit out there," 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."
Cozens tallied 84 points (34+50) in 68 games for Lethbridge last season after winning gold with Team Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August. Although he'll be given a chance to compete for an NHL roster spot, Botterill said one more season in the WHL could be best for his development as he continues to add strength.
"You always want your players to come in and have that belief [that they can make the team]," Botterill said. "We're certainly going to give him an opportunity. But the realistic factor, and I've been on the record saying it, is I think there's probably one or two, maybe three players who will step in and play in the National Hockey League this upcoming year.
"Probably the best thing for any player is to go back to junior and have that other year of development. 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."
Johnson was named to the USHL All-Rookie Team after tallying 25 points (6+19) in 54 regular-season games for Sioux Falls, then tallied eight points (2+6) in 12 playoff contests en route to a Clark Cup Championship.
Video: Ryan Johnson Media Scrum
"[He has] similar characteristics to Dylan - very good athlete, very good skater, has that ability to play well in his defensive zone, play against other teams' top players," Botterill said. "Then he also has the sense from a puck-moving ability [standpoint].
"When we talk about how our team wants to play, how we want to play when we're successful, it's our defensemen joining the rush, the defensemen moving the puck to our talented forwards, and we really feel Ryan fits the bill."
Johnson grew up in Orange County playing for his father, former NHL forward Craig Johnson, in the Anaheim Junior Ducks system. He'll follow in his father's footsteps next season when he begins his NCAA career at the University of Minnesota, the alma mater of current Sabres Casey Mittelstadt and Kyle Okposo.
"My dad's been huge for me," he said. "He introduced me to the game at a young age and taught me everything I know. So, obviously you've got to develop your own passion for the game, but he's been there every step of the way just kind of guiding me and always offering advice."
The Sabres have six picks on Day 2, beginning with the 67th overall pick in the third round. That number could go down to five, should San Jose choose to retain its conditional fourth-round pick and instead give the Sabres a third-round pick in next year's draft.
Stay tuned to Sabres.com for updates throughout the second day of the draft.