Dylan Cozens is putting Whitehorse on the hockey map.
Born and raised in Yukon’s capital, the northern city isn’t exactly known for producing high-end hockey talent but Cozens is changing that with every powerful stride. The teenager has stood out at every level he’s played — from suiting up as a kid against grown men at home to making his WHL debut in a high-stakes situation — and is poised to do the same in the pros.
Cozens has all the tools to be an impactful NHLer, from his size and strong puck control to his accurate shot. Here’s what you need to know about the promising prospect.
Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Age: 18 (born Feb. 9, 2001)
From: Whitehorse, YT
Weight: 183 pounds
He’s writing his name into the NHL’s history books
The 2019 NHL Draft will be historic for Yukon’s hockey scene, as no player from the Yukon has ever been selected in the first round of the NHL Draft. Until Friday, that is.
Only two other players born in the Yukon have suited up in the NHL, but neither saw much ice time in the pros. Forward Peter Sturgeon was the first — he played in a total of six games with the Colorado Rockies between 1979 and 1981; while defenceman Bryon Baltimore (he’s now a player agent) spent a few years in the WHA before skating in two games with the Edmonton Oilers in 1980. Of the two, only Sturgeon was drafted. (It’s also worth noting that winger Jarrett Deuling, who played 15 games for the New York Islanders from 1995 to 1997, was raised but not born in Whitehorse.)
He’s a big talent from a small hockey market
In many ways, Cozens’ hockey story mirrors that of most Canadian kids: born into a hockey-loving family, he took his first strides as a youngster on the backyard rink where he spent most of his waking hours learning and loving the game.
But growing up in a sporting community as small as Whitehorse certainly had its challenges, the biggest one being the lack of competition for Cozens.
“There’s no other rep teams to play against, so you play in the house league of the level above, against the older kids in the house league and that wasn’t working out,” Cozens told Sportsnet. “Once you get to a certain age, you have to play against men in a rec league.”
That simply wasn’t a safe option for the budding talent, who suffered a broken leg while playing against adults at age 12.
“We really realized that he needs to go and play against his own peers,” said dad Mike Cozens.
“He’d shown he had the ability to maybe find out how good he could be. How could we not let him have this opportunity?”
So, at age 14, Cozens packed up his hockey bag and journeyed south to Tsawwassen, B.C. to attend the Delta Hockey Academy, followed by a year at Yale Hockey Academy in Abbotsford, B.C.
“It was pretty tough but my parents knew that that’s what I needed to do to play against kids my age and play at a competitive level,” Cozens said. “It was a big sacrifice that they made for me and I owe a lot for that.
He thrived in the WHL
Moving away from home was, of course, the right decision. Following a successful stint in Tsawwassen, Cozens was drafted in the first round (19th overall) by the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, which made him the highest pick of any Yukon-born player.
Cozens impressed in a late call-up to the WHL’s Hurricanes for the 2016-17 playoffs, tallying three points in the final three games of the regular season followed by three goals and eight points in 12 post-season games — including a clutch marker to tie Game 7 of the Central Division Championship versus the Medicine Hat Tigers.
He carried that momentum into his first full WHL season, leading all rookies in goals (22) and finishing the year with 53 points in 57 games in 2017-18 to earn rookie-of-the-year honours — the first Yukon-born player to do so.
He continued to impress throughout his draft year in 2018-19. In 68 regular season games with the Hurricanes, he tallied 34 goals and tallied 84 points.
Early prospect rankings had Cozens being selected as early as third overall, but as the season went on his name started coming up more often in the five-to-10 range. An early playoff exit this spring certainly didn’t help his case, but the slight drop is likely more about the strong play of his peers as opposed to Cozens’ own skills and development.
He’s got power-forward potential
At 6-foot-3 with plenty of room to fill out, Cozens is built for the NHL and has the speed and strong skating to make a real impact down the middle.
NHL Central Scouting’s John Williams had this to say about Cozens via NHL.com:
“He’s a big body and potential power forward-type player. He has a good nose for the net, can score and is very competitive on the puck.”
In an early-season prospect ranking, Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino pointed out Cozens’ strong character as something teams will be impressed by over the course of the scouting process.
“Quiet confidence, extremely respectful, his character alone makes him a first-rounder. But with size and skill he’s cemented amongst the elite in this draft class.”
Cozens said he models his game after that of Islanders forward Mathew Barzal. His GM in Lethbridge, Peter Anholt, sees Jeff Carter:
“My comparison, whether it’s right or wrong, is Jeff Carter,” Anholt told Sportsnet’s Steven Loung. “And I think Jeff Carter was such a great junior and he’s been such a great pro, and there’s a lot of comparisons because Jeff Carter can play right wing, he can play centre, he can score.”
No, not that Dylan Cozens
If his name is familiar, that’s because there’s actually already a Dylan Cozens in the world of pro sports — same spelling and everything. Baseball’s Cozens is a 25-year-old outfielder and pinch hitter attempting to break into the big leagues with the Phillies.