Owen Power finally gets a break. He needs it after the craziest hockey season a 19-year-old has ever had. But in the fall, the attention will return and he will begin in earnest to become one of the marquee men for the Buffalo Sabers.
Think about what the great University of Michigan defenseman has been up to over the past 12 months. Last May, he played for Canada at the World Championships in Latvia and, less than two months later, he was the first overall pick in the NHL Draft.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has the pedigree – he won gold at the IIHF World Junior Championship and earned Ontario Hockey League Most Valuable Player honors – and the talent to be the solution long term in front of goal.
Then came the highly anticipated and star-studded college season at Michigan. The shortened trip to World Juniors in Edmonton that was cut short by Covid, but only after Power became the first Team Canada defenseman to score a hat trick in the tournament. A return to Michigan. An unplanned trip to China for the Olympics after the NHL opted out. Another return to Michigan and a trip to the Frozen Four, where disappointment reigned after an overtime loss to Denver in the semifinals.
And, finally, at the start of his NHL career with the Sabers. To sign a contract and skate in the morning in Tampa, practice at his boyhood rink in Etobicoke, Ont., and make his debut the next night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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There are whirlpools. And then there’s the madness of Power’s 2021-22 campaign.
“It’s nice to know you won’t get all that (next year),” Power said after the Sabers season ended. “As far as training is concerned, it’s not much different. You go there every day and try to improve. So I feel like it’s definitely a bit more relaxing to know what’s going on. comes instead of having all these thoughts and possibilities. It’ll be good just to have this one thing.”
The Sabers can’t wait to see what Power will become.
Power has two goals and an assist in his eight games, posting a plus-3 rating while averaging 22:05 per game of ice time. It had an astonishing Corsi rating of 58% at 5 out of 5 and while you’re on a small watch the numbers matched what the eyes saw.
At 6-foot-6, Power is a rare set of height, nimble skating ability and strong hands. He’ll be on everyone’s preseason Calder Trophy lists come fall. Power said the eight games he has played give him a head start next season.
“I think they’re huge. Just being able to acclimate to all the people here and also play,” he said. “It’s really good to go into next year and know what the league looks like.”
Winnipeg Jets forward and former Michigan star Kyle Connor, a 47-goal scorer this season, foreshadowed Power’s NHL success when asked about him by The Buffalo News during the All-Star Week in Las Vegas in February.
“The first thing that comes out of skating with him this summer is his skating ability,” Connor said. “He skates so fluid and that makes it difficult for you as an attacking player. He has such reach that he can skate with you, really skate. That’s rare at that age. He’s going to be a great player in this league.”
Power came into a tough spot, walking into an NHL locker room in Game 75 of a season as the anointed with a team that had been together for six months. Things went smoothly on the ice, but went better than one could have imagined off the ice. On his first night in Tampa, alternate captains Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons took him out to dinner and let him ask what he wanted about the NHL and he quickly became a member of the group.
“What I liked about how Owen got here was 1 he was able to be himself and be accepted by his teammates and then 2 just the way he wanted to fit in,” said said general manager Kevyn Adams. “‘I’ll pick up pucks after practice or water bottles.’ It’s a big deal. And then everyone feels it. So that’s the environment we want.”
Victor Olofsson feels like himself again. A wrist injury that saw the hard-shooting winger go goalless in 30 games has been healed. His return to form was key to the Sabres’ late-season turnaround.
“I didn’t expect the guys to be this good to me,” Power said. “They really allowed me to come here and be comfortable. Just allow me to be myself. I thought they were great.”
The power was so refined that the Sabers’ stated plan to have a veteran on the right side to play with him, either at the trade deadline or over the summer, may not be so automatic now. . The top two pairings of Rasmus Dahlin with Mattias Samuelsson and Power with Henri Jokiharju were more than capable of serving as a Top 4 quartet even though neither was over 22.
As one NHL executive told Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman in a bulleted article for a recent column “32 thoughts”: “Owen Power, Rasmus Dahlin and Mattias Samuelsson on the blue line are going to be a problem.”
And he didn’t mean for the Sabers.
Jokiharju said it was easy to see how Power was the first overall pick and the 19-year-old’s size and skating package immediately stood out.
“I think I already knew he could make a few plays and I was more surprised with how he played defensively,” Jokiharju said. “How he rated himself, what kind of stick he had (while defending rushed opponents). For my part, I think it took me a long time to get used to it. So I think that he was already ready for this stage.”
“He was awesome,” Power said of Jokiharju. “I think he and everyone else did a really good job of making me feel comfortable off the ice. With him on the ice, he talked to me about a lot of situations. my game.”
Coach Don Granato and his staff showed no hesitation with Power, making him an immediate member of the shorthanded team and slowly giving him power play chances as well. Power was happy that his eight appearances challenged him. He opened against the Leafs, played in Boston, got burned by St. Louis superstar Vladimir Tarasenko and closed against Chicago’s Patrick Kane.
“It was pretty cool,” Power said. “You grew up watching these guys, but it was also fun seeing how you lined up with them and having the challenge of playing against them. I had a lot of fun.”
Said Samuelsson: “He’s a special player. Even his first game in Toronto, to see a 19-year-old come into the league as a D-man and have that poise and composure with the puck and look very natural, you know he’s I’m only going to get better. It’s exciting with the ‘D’ we have. He’s a great boy, great personality and definitely one hell of a player.”