It’s a good thing Kirby Dach and Dylan Cozens were born 19 days and more than 1,200 miles apart in 2001. Because if they’d been born in the same hospital at the same time, there’s a chance they might’ve been separated at birth. More than 18 years later, NHL teams looking for the top forward in the 2019 draft not named Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko will have a compelling choice between two tantalizing prospects who are almost carbon copies of one another, both of whom can create offense and have a high compete level. They will choose between one prospect (Dach) who grew up and played his hockey just outside Edmonton and developed his skills with some of the best players in Western Canada, and another (Cozens) who grew up in Canada’s far north. So it should come as no surprise that Dach is the more refined prospect, while Cozens has a rawer package of size, physicality and drive.
Here’s how they measure up in key areas.
Cozens is the better and faster skater here and now, but that could change as the two continue to develop physically. “Cozens has the bigger frame, and he’s a little stronger,” said one scout. “Dach just needs some leg strength.” The sense is that Dach is a better skater than he’s given credit for, largely because he lacks the natural explosiveness that Cozens has in his first three steps. “Cozens is already a better skater in terms of his quickness,” said another scout. “While I think both will improve their skating, you’re going to see more flow and small linear progression for Dach, and you’re going to see a more exponential one for Cozens. There’s more of a power element to Cozens.” Edge: Cozens
Both players are more likely to pass than shoot, and their ability to identify and get the puck to teammates is high, but the sense is that Dach is at a truly elite level when it comes to thinking the game, particularly in the offensive end. “To me it’s Dach, and it’s not close,” said a scout. “I’m not disparaging Cozens, because his sense is fine and it’s not deficient, but Dach’s sense is really good. You get enamored with a 6-foot-3 guy who can skate and handle the puck. His sense is the best thing about his game.” With his ability to control and protect the puck, Cozens can hang onto it long enough to slow the game down and find open teammates. Edge: Dach
If a team is drafting either of these players, it is going to get a player whose main attribute is the ability to create offense. Even though Cozens put up more impressive totals this past season, much of that is because he’s more physically developed, whereas Dach’s sense of creativity is more innate. “The numbers would tell you Cozens, but I think it’s Dach in terms of production,” said one scout. “I think he’s got more natural talent. When you’re big and strong and powerful, you can overpower people, whereas I think Dach’s vision and his ability to see things is something that will carry over to the NHL.” Cozens is viewed as more of a natural goal-scorer, but Dach possesses more finesse around the net and in tight areas. Edge: Dach
The ability to play a 200-foot game is a coveted quality in the NHL, and once Cozens adds some muscle to his frame, it will likely make him more effective in his own zone and enhance what is already a pretty impressive defensive game. But playing defense is also a mindset, and scouts believe Cozens is much more willing than Dach to adopt it. “Dach doesn’t always buy in, and Cozens does,” said one scout. Because Cozens is more willing to play a physical game, he has the ability to support down low and knock opponents off pucks. That doesn’t mean Dach won’t become a better defensive player as he develops, because he likely will, particularly if he wants to get more ice time at higher levels. Edge: Cozens
There are scouts out there who see a resemblance to Joe Thornton in Dach, so that gives you a pretty good idea of how adept he is at distributing the puck. Dach has more of a pass-first mentality than Cozens, and Dach’s ability to find open teammates is impressive, especially on the power play, where he’s “ridiculous” according to one scout. “When I say elite-level passing…If you had a 10-point scale, and you put Hughes at 10, you’d put Dach at eight,” said a scout. Another scout said Dach is just as good as some high-end defensemen at passing out of his own zone: “I saw him make 10 or 12 stretch passes this year.” Edge: Dach
What Cozens lacks in pure offensive elan compared to Dach, Cozens closes the gap with his shot, which is hard, heavy and accurate. And because he creates so much room for himself in the offensive zone with his size and physical play, he’s also able to get to the prime areas of the ice to get his shot off. “If you’re going to talk about skill, you have to talk about the whole pantheon of skill, and you have to include Cozens’ shot,” said a scout. “His shot is really good, not that Dach’s isn’t.” Cozens has proven at the junior level that he can score using a wide arsenal of tools. His one-timer is very good, as are his wrist shot and snap shot. Edge: Cozens
This one goes to Cozens at this stage because he’s not only bigger and stronger, but he’s also more willing to engage in the physical side of the game. “Cozens is just consistently a little more competitive,” said one scout. That being said, the gap between the two players isn’t enormous, and Dach has the potential to close it if he gets stronger and learns to use his body more to his advantage. “By reputation, Cozens takes it in a landslide, but it’s closer than people think,” said a scout. “When you watch Cozens, he’s more willing than Dach and more aggressive than Dach, and he initiates it more than Dach. But when Dach decides he wants to, it’s hard to contain him. When he does hit, he has an impact.” Edge: Cozens
Scouts project both to be impact players in the best league in the world, but the differences in their physical development and versatility suggest Cozens will get there a little sooner. “Cozens has the edge because, earlier on, the more roles you can play, the easier it is to get to the NHL,” said one scout. “Cozens competes harder than Dach, and Cozens will be able to play a fourth-line or lower-line defensive role before Dach will. I’m not sure Dach will ever be able to do that.” If you’re picking one of the two to make the jump directly from the draft to the NHL, Cozens is more likely. But both could use more time to develop their games. Edge: Cozens