A heavyweight tilt is expected to unfold Wednesday when the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Saskatoon Blades meet at Sasktel Centre.
While both teams are almost equally matched in skill and competitiveness, it’s the game inside the game everyone will be watching as the Canes’ Dylan Cozens and the Blades’ Kirby Dach play against one another with draft stock on the line.
Both are expected to be top draws at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, landing in Bob McKenzie’s top-five preseason rankings.
“I think it’s great for our fans here,” Blades head coach Mitch Love said of the prospect. “This is round two of these two young men battling it out and they’re very talented players in their own rights.”
Dach and the Blades skated to a 3-2 shootout victory over Lethbridge in October.
With all of the added attention surrounding the game, extra NHL scouts will be in attendance, but Dach doesn’t seem to mind.
“Obviously it’s flattering, but you don’t really think about it that way,” Dach said. “You don’t really want to focus on that attention and just focus more on the team mentality.”
Love and Blades goaltender Nolan Maier got to spend some extended time with the highly-touted prospects during the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup in Edmonton this summer as teammates on Team Canada.
That allowed Maier, also draft-eligible in 2019, to do some scouting of his own on Cozens.
“Everyone knows how big of a tank he is,” Maier said of the six-foot-three forward from Whitehorse. “His workhorse mentality. He can do it all.”
Ask anyone about Cozens’ defining traits and one answer will always stick out: a relentless work ethic.
“He comes ready to compete, he’s very detailed in his game and he can get around the rink — a bit deceptive with his speed.” Love said.
Dach said that differentiates Cozens from most top-end talent.
“He’s a big, strong kid who can drive the puck wide, but can also go through guys,” Dach said.
Adding to the festivities is the Blades defending a four-game win streak against the workhorse from Whitehorse, while Lethbridge has dropped two-straight games and is arriving in Saskatoon hungry for a win.
Dach is winning the early-season battle against Cozens so far this season, at least on the score sheet.
He enters Wednesday’s game on a six-game point streak and has 15 points in his last eight games. Overall, Dach is fourth in the WHL in scoring, racking up 39 points in 23 games.
Cozens has 24 points in 21 games this season.
No matter the comparisons or the hype, Love is ready to watch the marquee matchup like any other fan in the building.
“It’s great, I hope a lot of fans come out to watch these two young men play, and good hockey teams that are going to be battling it out all year long for playoff spots in the eastern conference.”