Dylan Cozens, the 18-year-old center drafted seventh overall by the Buffalo Sabres in June, was cleared to be in the team's Prospects Challenge lineup Friday night against the New Jersey Devils in Harborcenter.
That will allow Sabres fans to watch Cozens face Devils center Jack Hughes, the NHL's most recent No. 1 overall draft pick. Cozens, who underwent thumb surgery in July after sustaining an injury at development camp, practiced without a red non-contact jersey Thursday and centered Matej Pekar and Lukas Rousek on a line.
Cozens told reporters Thursday that he was hoping to be cleared for the three-day event, however, he acknowledged he wanted to make sure he would be healthy for Sabres training camp.
“I’m kind of just focused on getting back to 100 percent and the Prospects Challenge this weekend," Cozens said. "But I’m just going to go in there and go in with confidence and just play my game, stick to my game. Don’t go out there trying too hard to impress, just do what I do and stick to my game.”
Cozens also told reporters he planned to speak with Sabres management Friday to determine his availability, but the team announced Thursday night that he would be in the lineup against the Devils.
The injury occurred on the final day of Sabres development camp June 29, when Cozens was upended by defenseman Brandon Hickey during his team's first game in the 3-on-3 French Connection Tournament. Cozens took off his glove, revealing his thumb in an unnatural position before leaving for the dressing room.
Cozens had surgery the following week, and he was expected to need up to three months to recover. His return for the Prospects Challenge bodes well for his ability to be a full-participant once the Sabres' NHL training camp begins next Friday.
Cozens, who was ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the fifth-best North American skater in the draft, scored 34 goals among 84 points in 68 games for the Western Hockey League's Lethbridge Hurricanes last season, tied for 10th in the league.