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Dylan Cozens scores in Sabres' 6-4 win over Jack Hughes, Devils

The hype followed Jack Hughes to Buffalo.

A number of fans wore the 18-year-old center's No. 86 jersey amid the standing-room-only crowd inside Harborcenter, and Hughes' debut was perhaps the main attraction on an otherwise quiet night around the National Hockey League.

Dylan Cozens and the Buffalo Sabres spoiled Hughes' first meaningful competition since being drafted first overall in June. Cozens, who is also an 18-year-old center and was selected six picks after Hughes, scored a power-play goal in his debut Friday night, and the Sabres beat the New Jersey Devils, 6-4, in the two teams' opening game of the Prospects Challenge.

Cozens, who was not cleared to participate in the three-day event until Thursday, scored when his shot from the right-wing circle went between the leg pads of New Jersey goalie Gilles Senn to give the Sabres a 5-0 lead at 13:19 into the second period.

"I felt good," Cozens told reporters. "It was a fast game, lots of good players. Everybody is competing hard. It was good to just get my legs under me again, go out and play hockey.

Hughes did not take long to answer following Cozens' goal. Hughes corralled a loose puck in the left-wing circle, turned to face the net and fired a quick shot that beat Sabres goalie Jonas Johansson to cut Buffalo's lead to 6-1. Neither was immune to rookie mistakes, though.

Hughes turned the puck over at his own blue line in the first period and committed another turnover during his next shift. Cozens, meanwhile, made a similar mistake at the opposing blue line, though Hughes was unable to gather the loose puck in the neutral zone.

"Obviously, I didn’t skate much this summer, so to get in, get some ice, play against some real competition, some physical games, it’s definitely going to prepare me for main camp," Cozens said. "It’s important."

Cozens, though, has not skated much this summer because he underwent surgery on his left thumb in July. His on-ice workouts with Dennis Miller, the Sabres' head of rehab and development, prepared him to excel upon joining the team for their first official practice Thursday.

However, Cozens had yet to face competition. That did not stop him from making an impact in the faceoff circle, and he played well defensively, forcing a few turnovers in the neutral zone.

"I thought Dylan played really well, especially with his injury and it being his first game competing against other people," Rochester coach Chris Taylor, who is behind the bench for the Sabres during the Prospects Challenge, said. "I thought he played a really good game. I thought he was smart."

Pekar Boulevard: Sabres fans inside Harborcenter on Friday night likely want to name a Buffalo street after Matej Pekar.

Pekar, a fourth-round draft pick in 2018, received a raucous ovation from the crowd after he dropped Devils defenseman Michael Vukojevic to the ice with a right hook during a fight in the third period.

"He stepped up and did a great job," Taylor said of Pekar. "Obviously, he got the fans excited and that's the type of player he needs to be."

Pekar scored 14 goals among 36 points in 33 games during an injury-shortened season with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League in 2018-19.

Olofsson shines: Victor Olofsson looked like an NHL player competing against prospects. The 24-year-old winger scored at 5:12 into the first period, shooting a puck off the crossbar and in during a 2-on-1 with Andrew Oglevie.

Olofsson also played on the Sabres' penalty-kill and power-play units, and hit the post twice later in the game.

"I thought we played a pretty good game," Olofsson said of his line, which included Oglevie and Rasmus Asplund. "The timing is a little bit off and stuff like that, but we kind of knew that coming into this game."

Asplund's arrow up: The Sabres have to be encouraged by Asplund's development. The former second-round draft pick assisted on Oglevie's first-period goal by winning a battle for a puck near the opposing blue line. Asplund also won an important defensive-zone faceoff against Hughes during a penalty kill late in the first period.

Asplund also assisted on Will Borgen's goal that gave the Sabres a 6-0 lead.

Strong in goal: Johansson has become somewhat of a forgotten prospect by people outside the Sabres' organization. After all, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen had an outstanding first season in North America and the team used a third-round draft pick on goalie Erik Portillo in June.

However, Johansson showed Friday night why goaltending could become one of the Sabres' strengths. Johansson, 23, was outstanding against the Devils, making back-to-back saves on Hughes in the first period and stopping 33 of 37 shots. It was Johansson's first game since he underwent season-ending surgery on an undisclosed lower-body injury in February.

Oglevie's push:  Oglevie could be a player to watch during the Sabres' training camp. That was obvious Friday night with his performance on the top line. Oglevie gave Buffalo a 3-0 lead at 14:16 into the first period, when he shot a puck over the glove of Senn.

The 24-year-old can play center or wing -- he was at the latter on a line with Olofsson and Asplund on Friday — and, barring injury, could have a prominent role in Rochester this season.

Murray's opportunity: Perhaps no prospect has more to gain, or lose, this weekend than Brett Murray. The 6-foot-5 was committed to Miami  (Ohio) after scoring 41 goals last season for Youngstown of the United States Hockey League.

However, Murray backed out of his commitment and won't be joining a college hockey program. According to assistant general manager Randy Sexton, Murray has an opportunity to earn a contract with Rochester if he performs well at the Prospects Challenge.

"We were crystal clear with Brett coming into development camp that it was going be a great opportunity for him to show us how committed he was to hockey," Sexton said. "He did a very good job. He had a very good development camp. His test results were very good. His conditioning was very good. Significantly improved from what we’ve seen in the past. That was step number one.

"After camp we were clear with him the next step is to come to rookie tournament, have a good tournament. If you have a good tournament, that could very well translate to an invitation to Rochester’s camp. ... For him, it’s a chance to earn a contract by having a good tournament."

Weekend schedule: The Sabres will hold a morning skate Saturday ahead of their 7 p.m. matchup against the Boston Bruins. The Pittsburgh Penguins will play the New Jersey Devils at 3:30 p.m. There are no games Sunday and the event wraps up with two games Monday.

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