BOSTON – When news broke Friday that Owen Power signed an entry-level contract with the Buffalo Sabres, Kevyn Adams received an onslaught of text messages from the team’s players.
In Florida preparing for a game against the Panthers, the Sabers wanted to know when their newest teammate was scheduled to arrive and how they could congratulate him on beginning a professional career.
« They wanted to connect with him, » Adams, the club’s general manager, said during a video conference call. « It says a lot to me of what this group is all about. And you know how excited they are to welcome him in. »
The hype surrounding Power’s arrival intensified late Thursday night when his season ended with Michigan’s devastating overtime loss to Denver in the Frozen Four at Boston’s TD Garden. And it will increase in the coming days, as Power is expected to join the Sabers on Saturday in Tampa, Fla., and he is tentatively scheduled to make his NHL debut Tuesday night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. Scotiabank Arena is a short drive from his family’s home in Mississauga, Ont.
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« We’re really looking forward to him joining us here shortly, » forward Jeff Skinner said after the Sabers’ 4-3 loss to Florida. « There’s obviously a lot of excitement and there should be. He’s going to be a great player for us. And we’re excited for him. »
The final few weeks of the Sabres’ season will be Power’s preview to his NHL career. He returned to Michigan – the first No. 1 draft choice to wait to turn pro since Erik Johnson in 2006 – to win a national championship as a sophomore and experience a normal college hockey season after the Covid-19 pandemic prevented him from playing in front of large crowds as a freshman. Now, he’ll join the Sabers’ blossoming young core that’s taken strides during the season’s second half.
« It’s a proud day for our organization, » Adams added. « We certainly believe in Owen and his abilities both on and off the ice, just the person he is. You’ve heard me talk over and over again about culture and what we’re building here and he is a phenomenal person, human being just the way he carries himself. He treats people well. We’re excited just to have him join this group and come in and be himself. And he can just come in and play. He doesn’t have to feel like the weight of the world’s on his shoulders. »
The season went brilliantly for Power, as he totaled three goals and 32 points in 33 games. He was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and led the Wolverines to a conference tournament title. In between, Power represented Canada at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, where he led the team in average time on ice per game. Before the abrupt cancellation of the IIHF World Junior Championship, Power became the first defenseman from Canada to total a hat trick in the tournament when he accomplished the feat in the opening game.
Power will enter the NHL with high expectations, but he won’t be asked to shoulder a heavy workload or immense responsibilities right away. The Sabers have fellow No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin and Mattias Samuelsson on the left side, which will allow coach Don Granato to use Power in specific situations to help his development.
« He’s going to bring some new energy and I’ve only heard good things about him, » Dahlin said. « We’re super excited to have him. He’s probably going to refresh my mind with a little bit of offensive play. It’s going to be a great piece to have in our team.
The club’s depth chart on defense also includes Henri Jokiharju, Jacob Bryson, Casey Fitzgerald, Mark Pysyk, Colin Miller and Will Butcher. Adams spoke to Dahlin on Wednesday about his role in helping Power acclimate to the NHL.
« I really believe that Owen, the transition, Rasmus has been through it, » Adams told The Buffalo News at the Frozen Four. « He’s young, but Rasmus has taken huge steps and he’s a leader. You have that group with him, Sameulsson, Jokiharju, Bryson. They’re young players, but Owen can just come in and play. Being a number one pick, having a guy next to you in the locker room that’s in that position, it helps with that transition. »
Power arrives with experience against older players, as he also represented Canada at the world championships last spring. He began the tournament in a depth role before ascending to the top pair, leading the club in average ice time per game as the team won the gold medal. The return to school also provided Power with more time to mature on and off the ice. He became a more well-rounded defenseman by showingcasing improved instincts in the offensive zone and a savviness on the forecheck near his own net.
In Michigan’s Frozen Four overtime loss, Power skated with three different defense partners, including Luke Hughes, and played the right side on the penalty kill. He seemingly took every other shift late in regulation and during overtime.
« It’s unbelievable being around him all the time, just because the time he puts in, the commitment he has to the game and the love he has for the game, » said Michigan goalie Erik Portillo, a Sabers prospect. « But also, I think he’s really taken steps in being the first D man. Being that strong link that everyone can trust in any situation. That’s where I’ve seen him grow the most.
« You can trust him, you feel so good when he’s out there. »
A memorable season by Power and the Michigan Wolverines ended Thursday night with a 3-2 overtime loss to Denver in the Frozen Four at TD Garden.
There was never a doubt that Power would be done with college hockey after his sophomore season. Regardless of Michigan’s tournament results, Power planned to join Buffalo at the conclusion of Michigan’s season. But the timing of his arrival is ideal for both him and the Sabers.
The club has shown significant growth on the ice since returning close to full health, posting an 8-3-3 record in March that featured victories over Toronto, Vegas, Calgary, Vancouver and Pittsburgh. The Sabers’ eight-game point streak from March 8 through April 1st was their longest since the 10-game win streak in November 2018.
The franchise’s playoff drought reached 11 season, but the outlook hasn’t been this bright in some time. Their prospect pool in Rochester will strengthen considerably if Adams manages to sign Portillo and Minnesota defenseman Ryan Johnson, a junior drafted 31st overall in 2019. But Power will step into the NHL right away, bolstering a defense corps that’s improved drastically with the development of Dahlin and Samuelsson, in particular.
« He’s got an incredible amount of attributes to go with the size, » Sabers coach Don Granato said of Power, who is 6-foot-6. « And obviously the size is his height now, but it’s going to continue to get strength and more strength. …He’s got an unbelievable calm to his game, he can slow the pace down and dictate the pace. But again, in fairness to him, he’s going to have time. It’s gonna take time like all other great players to acclimate to this level. He’s never experienced it, although he does have the advantage of having men’s world championships and playing with men, but it’s a different ice sheet. It’s a different game, the NHL is the NHL, it’s the highest level. And it’s going to be fun to watch him go through that process. »
News Sports Writer Mike Harrington contributed to this report.