Power expected No. 1 pick in 2021 NHL Draft because of poise, savvy

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Owen Power has plenty of attributes required of a top prospect, but the 18-year-old’s poise might be the biggest reason he’s widely expected to be selected No. 1 in the 2021 NHL Draft.

“He’s never flustered by the level of play, who he’s up against or what the situation is,” NHL Central Scouting senior manager David Gregory said.

With that quiet confidence, the left-handed defenseman made quite a statement this season as a freshman at the University of Michigan and as the youngest player for first-place Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Championship in Latvia.

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Power, No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, averaged 20:07 of ice time in 10 games to help Canada win the World Championship for the first time since 2016.

Performances like that have him likely to be selected No. 1 by the Buffalo Sabres, though he might opt to play in college again next season. The first round of the draft is July 23 (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, SN NOW). Rounds 2-7 are July 24 (11 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, SN NOW).

“Without knowing much about the rest of the draft class, it’d be really hard for me to see a player that possesses the on-ice [skill], the off-ice [qualities], the character, work ethic, the intangibles, that Owen brings,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “There might not be one thing that really sticks out that he does exceptionally well, but he does a lot of things very well.”

Power (6-foot-6, 213 pounds) took a major step in his development with Michigan, scoring 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) with a plus-20 rating in 26 games and being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.

“[Power’s] that dynamic skater that can join the rush,” Central Scouting director Dan Marr said. “He’s that tall, mobile defenseman with reach who can defend. He’s very good at reading plays. When clubs watched him recently with Canada on the big ice at the [World Championship], because he’s so mobile and fast, he was able to showcase his skills and attributes.

“The element of what the player brings, the sum of all his parts, is a top-end NHL package. He’s not that far from being able to play. It’s just going to take him time to learn the nuances of the NHL game. Everything he did this year, I would phrase it as impressive.”

Power drew the attention of scouts while captain of Mississauga in the Greater Toronto Hockey League as a 15-year-old in 2017-18, and his sureness and savvy stood out. 

“He’s very confident in his abilities,” Mississauga coach Shawn Snider said. “He reads the game so well that he sometimes helped our coaching staff make in-game adjustments.”

Snider said Power even assisted with minor tweaks on the ice.

“If we were going to do a bump off a defensive-zone face-off, [Owen] might say, ‘Listen, I think they’re taking it away and we can try this’,” he said. “He’d be on the same page with us, but sometimes he’d see it at the same time as us, or before us because he was the one on the ice, feeling the pressure.”

Snider recalled Power not only being a precocious player, but one who spent every second he could on the ice.  

“In minor midget in Toronto, you’re trying to manage sleep patterns and players’ rest and we’d be begging Owen to get off the ice after a Tuesday night practice before playing Wednesday, but we just couldn’t pull him off,” Snider said. “It’d be 11:30 at night and he’d still be out there working on little skills.”

Power scored 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) in 32 games in 2017-18 and was chosen by Flint at No. 22 in the 2018 Ontario Hockey League draft. By that time, he already had decided to attend Michigan.

“I always knew I wanted to go play college hockey,” Power said. “You see how historic the hockey program is, how many good players played at Michigan.”

Michigan has had 25 players taken in the first round of the NHL Draft but never a No. 1 selection.

If there’s one 2021 draft-eligible player capable of earning a spot on an NHL roster next season, it might be Power, but he has said he’s leaning toward playing at Michigan for another season. 

“I mean, you discuss it with the team that drafts you and your family,” Power said. “Personally, right now, I’d probably lean towards going back and playing another year (at Michigan), but that could change.”

Power probably would benefit from one more college season, said former NHL general manager Craig Button, resident director of scouting and NHL analyst for TSN.

“I’m not one to rush players into the NHL. … I think they should dominate their peers,” Button said. “My feeling is go back to college, dominate and be ready to come into the NHL and do what (Colorado Avalanche defenseman) Cale Makar and (Vancouver Canucks defenseman) Quinn Hughes did. 

“That said, I can see a path for him to play (in the NHL) next year. … I really do.”

Pearson said he and Power have spoken at length about whether the defenseman should return to Michigan or turn professional in 2021-22. Pearson pointed out current and former NHL defensemen who played two seasons in college before debuting in the NHL, including Mike Komisarek (2000-02), Jack Johnson (2005-07), Zach Werenski (2014-16) and Quinn Hughes (2017-19), who each played for Michigan, and Makar, who played for the University of Massachusetts (2017-19).

Power could sign an entry-level contract and play in the NHL next season after his college season ends.

“There’s a lot of things you can continue to get better at here,” Pearson said. “If I didn’t think he could continue to develop and improve at Michigan, and be challenged, then I would tell them, ‘Hey, you got to move on,’ but I think there’s room here not only for the physical part of it, but from the mental and the social maturity part. 

“I’ve got a ton of respect for the National Hockey League, but I watched Owen all season and feel staying another year to physically mature and get stronger will make him that much more ready to play a consistent game and help his NHL team every night.”

As for the decision about his future, Power will also listen to his development adviser, Jim Hughes of the CAA Hockey agency. He’s the father of another 2021 draft-eligible defenseman, Luke Hughes of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team, as well as Quinn Hughes and New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes. 

“The Hughes family has been awesome,” Power said. “We’ve known them for a long time and have a good relationship. I don’t think [Jim] having a son in the draft has really interfered with anything. I think it’s almost as if I’m one of his sons, so it’s been really good.”

Jim Hughes said, “[I expect] Owen will be the first pick overall, and I think he’d be a great fit in Buffalo,” Jim Hughes said. “I’m sure many people agree with me. We never look at it as a competition because if they keep doing what they’re doing, they can fulfill their dreams, go to their respective cities, and can all have success.”

Luke Hughes (6-2, 184 pounds), No. 4 in Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, will play for Michigan in 2021-22 and might even be paired with Power.

The chance to play at the World Championship came after Power’s college season ended earlier than expected. Michigan received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament but was unable to participate because of COVID-19 protocols.

The 18-year-old’s best performance at the World Championship came in a 2-1 overtime victory against Russia in the quarterfinals on June 3, when he had two shots on goal in 24:02 of ice time and was named player of the game.

Anaheim Ducks center Adam Henrique, who was captain of Canada at the World Championship, was impressed with Power’s poise.

“You can see his maturity,” Henrique said. “He’s humble and pretty quiet and just kind of allowed his game to come out. He’s certainly going to be a great player for years to come.”

In a 3-2 overtime win against Finland in the championship game three days later, Power played 24:17, including a Canada-high 10:31 in the third period.

“I was blown away watching him at the World Championships,” Button said. “His command of the game is brilliant, and I’m talking in every single regard. He makes it look easy. He stepped up to that level and again demonstrated everything that makes him an elite, top-pair, No. 1 defenseman.

“I don’t see a better player than Owen Power, and if I’m picking first, I want that guy on my blue line.”

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