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Hamilton Take2: Sabres leadership taking shape

WGRZ/WGR550 Sabres/NHL Insider Paul Hamilton shares his thoughts on the Sabres' captaincy in the short and long term.
Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres right wing Kyle Okposo (21) celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils Thursday, April 21, 2022, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

It seems like Kyle Okposo is going to be the next captain of the Buffalo Sabres. That makes a lot of sense as I’ve been talking about him being a huge leader since he arrived here from the New York Islanders. 

Okposo takes young players under his wing. Both Okposo and Casey Mittelstadt are from Minnesota and Mittelstadt has mentioned to me many times how much Okposo’s guidance has helped him.

I think Don Granato is making the right move by not thrusting one of his young players into the captaincy too soon. This franchise did that with Jack Eichel because they didn’t want him to get mad. Back then, everything was done to make Jack happy.

While I don’t think making Okposo captain is the wrong move, I would not change anything from last year except for one thing. Zemgus Girgensons and Okposo were named co-captains, but Granato decided just to have them both wear the “A” on their sweaters. I think Girgensons brings different, but valuable leadership, and last season worked. I would keep them both as captains just like it was with Chris Drury and Danny Briere. The thing I would change from last season is I’d put the “C” on Okposo for the first 41 games and then put it on Girgensons for the last 41 games.

Okposo only has one more year left on his contract and if I were Kevyn Adams, I’d be looking to sign him to a one-year deal until he is no longer effective. That’s when I would give the “C” to one of the younger players, but whom?

Ever since Alex Tuch arrived from the Vegas Golden Knights in the Eichel trade, it seems like the fans want him to be the next captain. Tuch just loves this franchise and he is a big part of why the culture has really taken hold for this team.

I have no inside information about this, but I think Granato would want to give the captaincy to Rasmus Dahlin. The only question would be if Adams and Terry Pegula were on board with it. Granato is the reason Dahlin went from a train wreck into one of the best defensemen in the NHL in just a few months.

The Sabres' head coach decided that he was tired of all the vicious criticism Dahlin was getting from the fans and the media, so he made a point of saying how well he was playing almost on a daily basis, even if he wasn’t. He would pump up his play or his leadership skills and Dahlin appreciated his coach having his back and starting to play like he was capable. The improvement in his game was astounding.

Personally, I think that would be a huge mistake. I just don’t think Dahlin is even close to captain material. I do think he would be a very good person to be part of their leadership group, but not the captain.

I have stayed consistent with who I think should be the captain since he arrived here. For me, it’s Dylan Cozens. His work ethic and will to win I think are perfect for a leader of men. Cozens has already shown how much he hates losing and how much he wants to be a leader.

Cozens is proud to wear blue and gold and feels lucky to be part of a talented, young nucleus.

It didn’t surprise me at all that when the Rochester Americans were in the playoffs, Cozens showed up to support Peyton Krebs, Casey Fitzgerald, Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka, and Brett Murray. After one of the Amerks' overtime victories, I saw Cozens just as happy as the team was for his friends and teammates.

If you want leadership, during development camp, Cozens drove to Buffalo from London, Ontario where he trains in the summer to spend the day with the prospects. One of the Sabres' 2022 first-round picks, Matt Savoie couldn’t take part on the ice due to a shoulder injury. Cozens sat with him for the better part of both sessions telling him how excited he is about this team and this city.

There's a chance that Erik Portillo or Ryan Johnson could become unrestricted free agents after their college seasons end next year. I have to wonder if Cozens along with Krebs and Mattias Samuelsson actively recruited them to become Buffalo Sabres and not take the free agent route.

On the ice, Cozens will always be there for a teammate and if he doesn’t get a certain play right, he dissects it until he does.

Last season it was Tage Thompson that broke out with a big year. This season, it wouldn’t shock me if Cozens is that guy. He played so well in the final month or so of the season, but it didn’t translate into goals.

He went to the World Championship for Team Canada and not only was he on the top line at an unfamiliar position on the left wing, but he also led the tournament with seven goals and was selected as one of Canada’s best three players.

It’ll be interesting down the road who Granato thinks is the right man for the job. I think Tuch would be an excellent choice, but for me, the best choice would be Cozens.

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