If you've followed The Hockey News Prospect Podcast for any length of time – and I fully recommend you do – you know that we, and many NHL scouts, consider Owen Power to be one of the best prospects in the 2021 NHL draft.
It's a defense-heavy year, and while the 2021 selection process isn't getting the same hype that 2020 did, the fact that there are simply so many unknowns as to how the players will further develop has made this year more interesting than usual. And, please, let's not drag it out like last year.
The 2021 draft doesn't have a clear No. 1 favorite, but the one that many NHL scouts point to is Power, the hulking 6-foot-5 defenseman out of the University of Michigan. Power is a strong puck distributor that excels at long-range passes but can unleash a hard slap shot without any hesitation. Defensemen with his size and skill don't come along often, and in a year littered with high-quality blueliners, it's one of the aspects of his game that really stands out.
To get a further look as to what makes Power such a dominant prospect, I chatted with Dan Ninkovich, the program coordinator at Beyond The Next Level in Oakville, Ont. BTNL is a sports performance that works with a range of prospects and NHL players, including the likes of Taylor Hall, John Tavares, Phil Kessel, Jack and Quinn Hughes and some guy named Connor McDavid, just to name a few.
Ninkovich began working with Power after Jim Hughes - a former professional hockey coach and the father of Jack, Quinn and Luke - introduced him to Power back in minor bantam. Ninkovich said Power was a standout even then with the Mississauga Reps, with the young defender eventually going 22nd overall to Flint at the OHL Priority Selection a year after. Most scouting services had Power as a contender to challenge Quinton Byfield for the No. 1 spot, but Power's existing commitment to the University of Michigan resulted in the fall.
Ninkovich said it only took just one scrimmage against older competition for him to notice just how special Power was a prospect.
"No mistakes, no panic," Nikovich said. "(He) creates space and time, acts like a pro. He was a lunch bag-to-work type of kid. No extracurricular stuff - the work gets done first."
Power went on to play with the powerhouse Chicago Steel program, where he'd finish on the second all-rookie team in 2019 before leading all USHL defensemen in points with 40 - good enough to secure the top D-man award for the United States' top junior league.
Power's transition to the NCAA was near-seamless, with the 18-year-old leading all U-19 defensemen with 16 points in 26 games on a red-hot Michigan Wolverines team. Having some of the best shooters in the league as teammates made it easier, but Power was often responsible for making things happen on any given night.
"He has great room energy and contributes to the culture of excellence. Very orderly since a young age, considerate and easy to manage. Coaches love guys like that," Ninkovich said.
Ninkovich is quick to praise Power about most aspects of his game - and that's exactly what you'd expect from a coach. But as many scouts will tell you, Power's game looks so effortless, something that Ninkovich was quick to acknowledge.
"Most of the work we do on the ice is geared towards sharpening and expanding his offensive toolbox," Ninkovich said. "Id' say only 20 percent, if that, of practice is dedicated to blueline fundamentals. I feel he could do that blindfolded. He is that good. As summer progresses, practices turn more into a variety of battles and game situations. The better the competition, the better he does. His fundamentals are so automated that the higher pace of the game suits him well."
Ninkovich said Power has taken it upon himself to get stronger, more physical and more deceptive on the ice. "We understand that due to his size he is "noticeable" out there and need to make sure he can stay injury-free and hold his own."
Some people have wondered if Power's size could be a detractor down the line. On one hand, six-foot-six defenseman Victor Hedman is one of the best blueliners in the league and a leading candidate to win the Norris Trophy this season. On the other hand, take a look at six-foot-eight Tyler Myers, the 12th overall pick in 2008. Today, Myers' game is a shell of what it once was and far below overall from what we've seen from John Carlson and pre-Sharks Erik Karlsson, both of whom were selected after Myers.
But in Ninkovich's eyes, he's not worried. He cites Power's mobility and edgework as two traits that sets him apart from other big defenders while adding that he has worked specifically on wall play and the half wall starts.
"Size isn't a teachable trait, and he has it," a scout said. "But he's more than that. He's got the poise and calm demeanor you want from a young defenseman. Nothing seems to faze him. He's going to eat minutes like it's candy."
Ninkovich believes it shouldn't take too long for the top prospect to make his mark on the NHL. Some scouts have wondered if another year in the NCAA would be best for his development, but Ninkovich thinks Power could step into a pro-environment and be effective right out of the gate - something very few defensemen have been able to over the past decade. Since 2011, only Rasmus Dahlin (2018), Noah Hanifin (2015), Aaron Ekblad (2014), Seth Jones (2013 - Ninkovich used him as a comparable for Power - "25-minute D-man. Ride him.") and Adam Larsson (2011) have made the jump from the top five of the draft to an immediate NHL spot.
Some believe none of the top defensemen this year will make the jump right away due to the interruptions that COVID-19 put on proper development, while others think Power, Brandt Clarke and Simon Edvinsson all have a realistic shot.
"Some say (Power) could use one more year of college hockey. I say he can step in right away and make an impact at the highest level. He is mature beyond his years," Ninkovich said.
Ninkovich said he wants to see Power shooting more for tips and rebounds and making the most of the ice around him. Nikovich also said he wants Power to work on finding the fine line of being aggressive and responsible, but says it's nothing that he won't learn naturally over time.
"I remember the first game Quinn Hughes watched him play for the University of Michigan and he texted me and said, "Owen is going first overall," Ninkovich said.
That's quite the endorsement from a spectacular defenseman in his own right.