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4 Sabres prospects vying for World Juniors gold

Cozens, Samuelsson, Pekar and Portillo will suit up at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

Over the next two weeks, four Buffalo Sabres prospects will be competing at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic in search of a gold medal.

Dylan Cozens, Mattias Samuelsson, Matej Pekar and Erik Portillo will each try to help lead their respective countries to a championship. 


Dylan Cozens

Forward, Canada
Height: 6-foot-3 - Weight: 185 pounds
Drafted: 1st round, 7th overall by Buffalo in 2019

The Sabres top pick in the 2019 NHL Draft will get his first taste of the World Junior tournament this week. 

After missing the first weekend of the season due to a thumb injury, the 18-year-old center as been on an absolute tear for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. In 30 games this season, he's posted 20 goals and 46 points with three game-winning goals. He's currently fourth in the WHL in scoring. 

During his junior career, he's totaled 184 points (77+107) in 158 games. He signed his entry-level contract with the Sabres over the summer and skated in three NHL preseason games in September.

Tweet from @TheWHL: A monster night from @BuffaloSabres prospect @Dylan_Cozens propels the @WHLHurricanes forward into a tie for the WHL scoring lead! #WHLStats


Mattias Samuelsson

Defense, United States
Height: 6-foot-4 - Weight: 220 pounds
Drafted: 2nd round, 32nd overall by Buffalo in 2018

Samuelsson will serve as captain of the U.S. national team at the tournament.  

Tweet from @usahockey: Mattias Samuelsson named captain of the U.S. National Junior Team while K'Andre Miller and Oliver Wahlstrom will serve as alternates! #USAWJCDetails 🔗

He's also one of the captains of his collegiate team at Western Michigan. Through 12 games of his sophomore season, the 19-year-old defenseman has recorded a goal, three assists and 35 penalty minutes. 

"(He) certainly [leads] by example more than anything, but he has a voice that people listen to," Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray told last summer. "Also, just a tremendous sense of humor. He puts a smile on my face every time I talk to him. He's mature beyond his years."

Samuelsson won silver last year as a member of Team USA. He previously served as captain during the U-18 World Junior tournament in 2018.

Matej Pekar

Forward, Czech Republic
Height: 6-foot-0 - Weight: 170 pounds
Drafted: 4th Round, 94th Overall by Buffalo in 2018

Pekar is building off his productive, but injury-shortened 2018-19 campaign with another strong season for the Barrie Colts. He has 29 points (16+13) through 26 games this season. 

Tweet from @CZprospects: Matej Pekar scores the lone Czech goal in a 5-1 loss to Sweden. @BuffaloSabres prospect tips in a shot from Simon Kubicek. Lukas Parik with 19 saves on 24 shots. #WorldJuniors

Pekar, whose scrappy and relentless efforts have gained notice, had a strong showing in Sabres training camp this season and earned the opportunity to play in one preseason game. 

"He's got a good personality on him, wants to learn, wants to get better, works extremely hard - very ratty like that," Sabres forward Kyle Okposo, offering a smirk, back in September. "I think that the advice I could give a young player is don't be afraid to be yourself and push the envelope.

"I think that's really important now, to express yourself, express your personality and just be who you are. You can't change. … I think he does a really good job of that."

He also played for the Czech Republic last year and will look to show well for his country on home ice.

Erik Portillo

Goaltender, Sweden
Height: 6-foot-6 - Weight: 209 pounds
Drafted: 3rd Round, 67th Overall by Buffalo in 2019

Portillo is one of three goaltenders on Team Sweden's roster along with Lightning draft pick Hugo Alnefelt and Red Wings draft picks Jesper Eliasson. Alnefelt will likely be Sweden's starter to begin the tournament.

In his first North American season, Portillo currently ranks second in the USHL with 12 wins (he's 12-2-1), second with a 2.05 goals-against average and third with a .931 save percentage.

Portillo was named the USHL's Goalie of the Week for the week ending Nov. 19 after stopping a combined 43 of 45 shots in a pair of victories for the Dubuque Fighting Saints. 

 Portillo, 19, is committed to the University of Michigan for next season.

World Junior Champtionship schedule and stats update

All times ET

Thursday, Dec. 26
Russia 3 - Czech Republic 4 (Pekar: 1 SOG)
Finland 2 - Sweden 3 (OT) (Portillo: DNP) 
Canada 6 - U.S. 4 (Cozens: 2 SOG; Samuelsson: 1 SOG)

Friday, Dec. 27
Germany 3 - U.S. 6 (Samuelsson: Plus-1)

Saturday, Dec. 28
Czech Republic 3 - Germany 4 (Pekar: 1 A) 
Switzerland vs. Sweden, 1 p.m. (Portillo: DNP)
Russia vs. Canada (Cozens: 3 SOG)

Sunday, Dec. 29
U.S. vs. Russia (Samuelsson: 2 SOG)

Monday, Dec. 30
Kazakhstan 2 - Sweden 6 (Portillo: DNP) 
Germany 1 - Canada 4 (Cozens: 1 A)
U.S. 4 - Czech Republic 3 (OT) (Samuelsson: 1 SOG; Pekar: 2 SOG)

Tuesday, Dec. 31
Sweden 6 - Slovakia 2 (Portillo: DNP)
Canada 7 - Czech Republic 2 (Cozens: 1G, 3 A; Pekar: 2 SOG)

Wednesday, Jan. 2 - Quarterfinals
Switzerland vs. Russia, 6:30 a.m.
Canada vs. Slovakia, 9 a.m. (Cozens)
U.S. vs. Finland, 11:30 a.m. (Samuelsson)
Sweden vs. Czech Republic, 2 p.m. (Portillo; Pekar)

Friday, Jan. 4 - Semifinals

Saturday, Jan. 5 - Medal Games


Stay tuned to for daily updates from the tournament.

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