The thatch of perfectly coiffed hair from 2021 has been replaced by the kind of mop-top salad that’s all the rage with kids these days, the kind you have to keep brushing back and that finds a way of escaping all parts of your helmet. The look has changed, as have the life circumstances. But one thing remains the same – Owen Power is still top dog.
It was thus when he went from being the No. 1 draft prospect to the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft. And through three different teams and a world of life and hockey experiences, Power is the No. 1 prospect outside the NHL for 2021-22. As he took a few minutes to chat, just days before the Big 10 championship game and prior to the NCAA tournament, Power had a chance to reflect on his season. And that’s important, because, again, as the kids say, stuff’s about to get real.
On this day, there is the rest of the season to worry about with the Michigan Wolverines, and there’s a lot of legacy stuff to be determined there. Now, his college season is over, and thus begins his NHL career. He’ll have a chance to represent Canada at the World Championship again and, if he and the Sabres choose, he could even play in the World Junior Championship this summer.
“It’s been a lot of cool experiences,” Power said. “And a lot of fun, I would say. When you play on so many different teams and with a lot of guys who played pro for a while, you just learn a lot of little things to work on about what pro hockey is like. A lot of stuff off the ice. It’s been awesome, a great experience for me.”
Power pointed to Canadian Olympic team veterans Jason Demers, Daniel Winnik and Eric Staal as being especially helpful, and when you have 2,790 combined games of NHL experience at your disposal, it’s smart to keep your ears open. And Power will have the opportunity to put it to use sooner rather than later. His path is directly to the NHL, and his coach at Michigan realizes that more than anyone. (When he learned that the chronicler of this piece was on the phone with Sabres GM Kevyn Adams previous to speaking to him, Mel Pearson said, “So, is Kevyn going to let Owen come back next year?” He was joking.)
Power may not have put up boffo numbers this season, but Pearson said that’s due as much to all the different experiences as anything else. After all, when Power made the decision to return for his sophomore season at Michigan, the opportunity to participate in the Olympics wasn’t even on the table. Prior to leaving for the WJC, Power was dominant. When he returned, then left again for the Olympics, it took him some time to get back into sync with the college game and his teammates.
The Sabres, for their part, are as excited about Power as they were the day they drafted him. “When we were scouting him, we got excited about a player who could be in all situations,” Adams said. “NHL player, big minutes, poise with the puck, the ability to bring pucks out, all those things really showed up as we were scouting him. As we watched him play this year, he kept doing that, and he kept getting better. He’s extremely driven to be a great player.
“He’s really self-aware. He understands what he does well and what he wants to work on. I find it rare that you can talk to a young player after a game and he can give you a clear analysis of what he liked and didn’t like, and he can do that.”
That comes as no surprise to those who know Power well. Pearson said another thing he had to juggle this season was his academic commitments in Michigan’s sports management program, which he also takes seriously. Pearson said Power managed to handle it all with incredible aplomb, particularly given all the teams and the upheaval this season created. “Obviously, it’s been a whirlwind year for him,” Pearson said. “I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and I don’t think I’ve seen anybody, especially come through our program, that has had quite the year he has, trying to juggle everything. The one thing I’ll say about him is he has handled it tremendously well. I don’t know if everyone can, but he’s such a mature kid, it’s been seamless. It’s really been seamless.”
Power could have been playing for the Sabres this season, and he would have made a ton of money, had a bunch of different experiences and played in an outdoor game.
But Owen Power is playing the long game here, one that is just getting started. “I’ve always said I didn’t think there was a wrong decision,” Power said. “But going back has been awesome, just with all the experiences I’ve been able to have. I wouldn’t have been able to do that playing in the NHL.”