Watch a single shift of Owen Power and it’s easy to see the comparisons many make between the current Michigan defender and top-tier NHL defenseman Victor Hedman.
Big, smooth skating and heavily effective at both ends of the ice. Those qualities excited the Buffalo Sabres enough to select Power No. 1 overall in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. Power even admits to looking up to and emulating the two-time Stanley Cup champion.
But the Sabres will have to wait at least a year for Power’s services, allowing Michigan to get another season of the 6-foot-5 defender. He’s the first No. 1 overall pick in an NHL Entry Draft since 2007-08 to not report straight to his team.
“I think just another year of development,” Power said to NCAA.com when asked why he decided to return to Michigan. “Just continue to get better and develop with another year. Last year we didn’t really get a true experience of playing hockey at Michigan, so I think that had a little bit to do with it just with the COVID last year and everything that went on with that. I think coming back one more year and trying to win a national championship and just using this extra year as a time to make a leap in my development.”
Power talked at length with Buffalo and his advisors about the move he’d make, although he doesn’t know the exact date he came to that decision. He does know one thing for certain.
“I know it did take awhile to finalize that decision,” he said.
The No. 1 overall pick returns to a super-team at Michigan. For a little perspective, Power was one of four Wolverines selected in the first five picks of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Matty Beniers, Luke Hughes and Kent Johnson were the other three. Freshman forward Mackie Samoskevich was selected 24th overall.
“It was really cool,” Power said of some teammates being selected right after him. “I think I was on the phone for a couple of them so I was trying to pay attention and see where they went but luckily they all went pretty quick so I didn’t have to wait too long.”
Seven different former first-round picks populate Michigan’s lineup. Add in seven more draft picks from after the first round, and the Wolverines have one of the best rosters in college hockey.
With that comes high expectations. This team isn’t just around for a winning record — the Wolverines goal is to win a national championship.
“I think it’s probably pressure. You hear all the outside noise talking about our team,” Power said. “I think with the guys in the locker room, we do a pretty good job of canceling that out and just focusing on ourselves and worrying about trying to get better as a team and as an individual every day so at the end of the day, hopefully we’ll be playing for a championship but I think all of us are doing a pretty good job at staying in the present and not looking too far ahead.”
Power says he doesn’t worry too much about the pressure that comes with being selected first overall. He’s always put big expectations on himself — he doesn’t expect this to be any different. Someday he’ll have to face the role of being Buffalo’s savior. But that day will wait.
Along with winning a national title, this will be a big year in Power getting NHL-ready.
Power looks to be the next prominent NCAA defenseman to make a huge leap forward in his sophomore year. Cale Makar did so in 2019 with UMass. So too did Quinn Hughes in the same year with Michigan. Adam Fox's came in his third season with Harvard. Even though he’s not a defenseman, Cole Caufield made huge strides in his sophomore season last winter.
“Offensively, I've got a ton of work to improve on in different situations,” Power said. “Defensively, the same thing. Becoming harder to play against and being able to get stops right away so I think it’s definitely something I see room for improvement and something that I’m focusing on in those two areas of the game.”
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Michigan would love to see Power become even more of a shutdown presence in his own zone and increase his production in the opposition’s. The Mississauga, Ontario native posted three goals and 16 points in 26 games during his freshman season.
What will certainly help motivate him is the return of fans to arenas. It’s something Power looks forward to in Year 2.
“It’s really exciting,” Power said. “I’m trying not to get too excited about it just in case they for some reason say we can’t play but I think just hearing all the guys talk about what it was like before COVID and playing in a packed Yost is, from what I heard, awesome and something that I think all of us who haven’t go to experience it yet are looking forward to.”
Fans will most likely get their first in-person look at Michigan’s wonder boy this winter. That, matched with the motivation from last season ending in a removal from regionals due to COVID-19 protocols, should make for a year Wolverines fans will want to pay attention to.