Michigan prospects can make history in first round of 2021 NHL Draft

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Owen Power, Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson could make NHL history just by hearing their names called in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft on Friday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, SN NOW, TVAS).

The University of Michigan teammates could be the first three players from the same NCAA program to be selected in the first round of the same draft.

Power, a defenseman, is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters. Johnson, a forward, is No. 3, and Beniers, a forward, is No. 6.

 

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“Obviously it hasn’t happened before so we’re really proud of the players and the coaches that did the recruiting here, and the players in general because they did a lot to help those guys to where they are now,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “But they’re all great players, great kids and we’re just really excited and anxious to see how things shake out for them at the draft.

“For the program, we are honored and privileged and very proud of those guys for what they’ve been able to accomplish so far in their young hockey careers.”

Two NCAA teammates have been selected in the same opening round three times, most recently in the 2001 NHL Draft (Ohio State University; R.J. Umberger, No. 16, Vancouver Canucks; David Steckel, No. 30, Los Angeles Kings).

Beniers said the chance to make history in the draft has been downplayed among the three Michigan teammates when they’ve spoken recently.

“I don’t think any of us put too much stress on ourselves about the draft and whatever is going on,” he said. “It’s more just like, ‘How are the interviews going? What’s going on? What did you like?’ Things like that. Just talking a little bit here and there. Not too much about the draft.”

Since the NHL Draft was first held in 1963, 12 players have been chosen from Michigan in the first round, most recently defenseman Quinn Hughes by the Canucks at No. 7 in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Having three selected in one draft would be special, Pearson said, but more importantly it would confirm the players’ focus and work ethic, as well as the ability to thrive under the microscope.

“Especially with the kind of year it was with COVID,” he said. “The three of them really put in a lot of time and effort and a lot of eyes were on them. That’s good and bad. Everybody thinks it was an advantage, but at the same time, if you don’t perform, have a bad game or a couple of bad games or your first sighting is not as good, it can go the other way. So that’s what I liked about these guys, and our whole team, that they were ready to go from the get-go and stayed focused mentally and stayed in a great shape physically and went out and did it every night.”

Power (6-foot-6, 213 pounds) scored 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) in 26 games. The 18-year-old left-shot defenseman also had three assists and averaged 20:07 of ice time in 10 games for Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Championship.

“[Power] is going to be a superstar hockey player,” said New York Rangers coach Gerard Gallant, who coached Canada at the World Championship. “We all know he’s got the talent and skill, but to see him do what he did at this level of hockey, as an 18-year-old … he’s obviously going to be drafted early in the first round. He’s going to be outstanding.”

Power has said returning to Michigan for another season is a consideration so he can better enjoy the college experience.

“I think that’s one of the big parts of why I kind of want to go back to school, to just be able to experience the true college experience, especially at Michigan with Yost [Arena] and the fans there, playing in front of them would be pretty special,” Power said. “And just actually going to class and not doing it online and just being able to do stuff other than go to the rink and home. I think it would be something I would like to do.”

One more college season, especially a more normal one after all the interruptions and restrictions caused by the pandemic last season, could help Power be more ready for the NHL.

“That’s the plan if I was to go back to school,” he said. “That’s my goal, to play one more year and then be ready to play in the NHL. So yeah, I think that’s kind of what I expect.”

Beniers scored 24 points (10 points, 14 assists) in 24 games at Michigan, scored three points (one goal, two assists) to help the United States win the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship and scored two points (one goal, one assist) in six games for the U.S. at the World Championship.

He said the international competitions this season helped prepare him for what the NHL could be like, though he couldn’t predict an actual timetable for when he’d feel ready for the League.

“Definitely I think the pace of play was a little higher than I played before,” he said. “I got to do that and also at World Juniors and then at Worlds, it kind of gets higher every step of the way. For me, I think it [the NHL] is a few years. I’m not totally sure what’s going to happen, but I think that I’m pretty close. It takes a lot of work to get there and kind of stay there and be impactful.”

Johnson scored 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) in 26 games last season, and like Power and Beniers, is leaning toward playing one more NCAA season.

“I’m pretty confident with the way my training’s going and obviously it’s a really exciting group at Michigan,” Johnson said. “I think everyone is really excited to go for a national championship next year but obviously we’ll see how my development goes but I definitely feel it could be sooner rather than later.”

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