Typically, first overall draft picks have gone straight to the NHL these days, but defenseman Owen Power had some pretty compelling reasons to stay in college. The Buffalo Sabres prospect was of course coming off an unorthodox freshman campaign at the University of Michigan, one played under pandemic conditions and prematurely ended when the Wolverines were forced to drop out of the national tournament due to Covid protocols.
There was also the matter of Michigan looking like an absolute wagon for the 2021-22 season, with Power and fellow 2021 top-five picks Matty Beniers (SEA), Luke Hughes (NJ) and Kent Johnson (CBJ) all slated to play alongside the big defenseman on a team also featuring a cadre of other high-end prospects such as Johnny Beecher (BOS), Thomas Bordeleau (SJ) and Brendan Brisson (VGK).
As the Sabres have gotten off to a better-than-anticipated start in the NHL, Power has been soaring in the NCAA - though that was much more expected, given his prodigious talents. Nevertheless, with 12 points in 10 games, Power is tied with Brisson for second in team scoring behind Johnson's 14 points and Michigan is indeed off to a great start.
The Wolverines have an 8-2 record with wins over top-ranked programs Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State, while sweeping archrival Michigan State over the weekend. It's hard not to key in on the points Power is producing so far - he has nearly matched the 16 he put up in 26 games as a freshman already - but the youngster is happy with his progress at both ends of the ice.
"My offensive game has taken another step," Power said. "But all over the ice - defensively my gaps have been a lot better and in the D-zone I've become harder to play against and done a better job breaking out pucks, making it hard for the other team to create offense or sustain O-zone time."
Power did get a unique opportunity late last season when he was chosen to play for Canada's World Championship team; a rare instance for a teenaged defenseman. While he started off slowly in a depth role, Power grew as the tournament wore on and became an integral part of the blueline by the end, when Canada pulled off an incredible run to win gold.
Power finished the tourney on a pairing with Detroit's Troy Stecher and having older teammates willing to bring the kid into the fold really helped him along the way.
"Stech was really good to me, especially when we were playing together," Power said. "Guys like Connor Brown, Adam Henrique, Darcy Kuemper and Colin Miller were all unreal guys to me and made it easy to fit in and be confident around that group."
This year, Power will get a chance to pull off an interesting bit of trivia if he can add a world junior gold medal to his trophy case after winning World Championship gold (Winnipeg prospect Cole Perfetti is also eligible to pull off the trick). Scheduling and Canada's extra-long pandemic bubble tryout camp prevented Power from getting a shot at last year's WJC squad, but it's hard to see him missing this year's event.
With Team USA's Beniers bringing gold back to Ann Arbor last season, it's only natural to assume there will be a lot of trash talk in the Michigan room in the next month - especially since Johnson, Hughes and Bordeleau are also solid candidates to make the North American entries. But Power isn't making any assumptions.
"There hasn't been too much (trash talk) yet," he said. "It's so far away and most of us don't know if we're on the team. Matty Beniers is probably the only lock because he was there last year. There will probably be more as it comes closer."
In the meantime, Michigan fans can delight in all of that talent playing on the same team. And Sabres fans can keep an eye on the rapid growth of a potential future cornerstone.