“It’s pretty special,” Power told ESPN. “It’s something I dreamed about my whole life and I don’t know if my younger self would have really believed it. … I’m just super excited to be a part of the franchise and ready to get going.”
The left-shot defenseman is the third player to be selected No. 1 directly from the NCAA and is the first player from the University of Michigan to be selected No. 1.
The Sabres on June 2 won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery for the second time in the past four drawings; they selected defenseman Rasmus Dahlin at No. 1 in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Center Matthew Beniers was picked No. 2 by the expansion Seattle Kraken; center Mason McTavish was selected No. 3 by the Anaheim Ducks; defenseman Luke Hughes was the No. 4 choice by the New Jersey Devils; and center Kent Johnson was chosen No. 5 by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Beniers is the first NHL Draft pick by the Kraken, who participated in their expansion draft Wednesday and begin play next season.
“They were probably one of my favorite teams that I interviewed with,” Beniers said. “Ron was great. … Just being in interviews with those guys, I felt extremely comfortable. They were awesome. It felt like a real conversation. Thought we had a pretty good connection. All the times we talked were great. So I was just so excited that they picked me and I’m going to be a Seattle Kraken.”
Beniers and Johnson played at Michigan last season, and Hughes plans to play there as a freshman next season.
“We actually talked a good amount today just FaceTiming and stuff,” Beniers said. “I think it’s so unbelievable watching them get drafted. I think I was just as happy as I was for Owen, me and Luke, all of us. It’s so cool. Just watching now, seeing Kent just got picked. It’s really cool, so happy for him. That’s awesome. I’m kind of at a loss for words right now. Just so excited for my teammates and what’s next.”
Hughes joins his brother, center Jack Hughes, who was the No. 1 pick 2019 NHL Draft by New Jersey. Brother Quinn Hughes is a defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks; he was selected No. 7 in the 2018 NHL Draft.
“Yeah, I mean it’s a dream come true,” Luke Hughes told ESPN. “I’m super happy, super excited to play with Jack, and someday hopefully to play with Quinn too. I’m super excited to be a Devil.”
Jack Hughes said, “It’s an awesome, awesome, it’s a great pick for our team. Getting a great player. But I’m just a proud older brother right now. So I’m very excited.”
[RELATED: 2021 NHL Draft first-round results, analysis]
The draft was conducted virtually for the second straight year due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, with each team selecting from its draft venue in its city and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman based at NHL Studios in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Rounds 2-7 are Saturday (11 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, SN NOW).
Power has said he was leaning toward playing at Michigan again next season.
“I’m not thinking about it too much right now, just trying to enjoy the night,” Power said. “I think that’s something I’m going to worry about later.”
Power could sign an entry-level contract and play in the NHL next season after his college season ends.
“I know I’ve said this before, clearly you’re looking to draft who we believe is the top player but also who’s going to be the top player projecting out moving forward,” Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams said. “And that’s obviously challenging. So this isn’t about who comes out of the gate and Day One is the best player. This is about where they go in their career. Development is never a straight line. You want to put these players in a position to continue to get better, continue to grow, continue to be ready when they step into the NHL.
“This is a tough league. So I think one mistake we don’t want to make is putting someone in a position that they’re just treading water. We want them to be ready to play.”
The last player chosen No. 1 to not play in the NHL the following season was Erik Johnson, selected by the St. Louis Blues in the 2006 NHL Draft. The defenseman returned to play at the University of Minnesota and made his NHL debut during the 2007-08 season.
The Sabres earlier Friday traded defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Robert Hagg and the No. 14 pick, which they used to select forward Isak Rosen.
Power scored 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) and was plus-20 in 26 games in his first NCAA season and was the only draft-eligible player with Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Championship, when he had three assists and averaged 20:07 of ice time.
“Owen Power is at the top of this draft class as he is the best at his position,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. “His game presence displayed NHL skills and attributes and his game continued to mature and impact throughout the season. He is an excellent package of NHL size (6-foot-6, 213 pounds), skating and smarts. His hockey sense is intuitive and instinctive, allowing him to utilize his size, speed and skill assets to get the job done in all situations.”
Beniers helped the United States win the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship as the youngest player on the roster, scoring three points (one goal, two assists) and averaging 17:05 of ice time in seven games as the second-line center.
McTavish led draft-eligible centers with 11 points (five goals, six assists) in seven games for first-place Canada at the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship.
Johnson led first-time draft-eligible NCAA players in assists, points and points per game (1.04).
Buffalo previously selected No. 1 three times: Dahlin, center Pierre Turgeon (1987) and center Gilbert Perreault (1970).
New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro (Boston University, 2000 NHL Draft) and Detroit Red Wings forward Joe Murphy (Michigan State, 1986) were the previous NCAA players to be selected No. 1.
2021 NHL DRAFT FIRST ROUND
1. Buffalo Sabres: Owen Power, D
2. Seattle Kraken: Matthew Beniers, C
3. Anaheim Ducks: Mason McTavish, C
4. New Jersey Devils: Luke Hughes, D
5. Columbus Blue Jackets: Kent Johnson, C
6. Detroit Red Wings: Simon Edvinsson, D
7. San Jose Sharks: William Eklund, LW
8. Los Angeles Kings: Brandt Clarke, D
9. Arizona Coyotes (from VAN): Dylan Guenther, RW
10. Ottawa Senators: Tyler Boucher, RW
11. Arizona Coyotes: Forfeited
12. Columbus Blue Jackets (from CHI): Cole Sillinger, C
13. Calgary Flames: Matthew Coronato, RW
14. Buffalo Sabres (from PHI): Isak Rosen, RW
15. Detroit Red Wings (from DAL): Sebastian Cossa, G
16. New York Rangers: Brennan Othmann, LW
17. St. Louis Blues: Zachary Bolduc, C
18. Winnipeg Jets: Chaz Lucius, C
19. Nashville Predators: Fedor Svechkov, C
20. Minnesota Wild (from EDM): Jesper Wallstedt, G
21. Boston Bruins: Fabian Lysell, RW
22. Edmonton Oilers (from MIN): Xavier Bourgault, C
23. Dallas Stars (from WSH via DET): Wyatt Johnston, C
24. Florida Panthers: Mackie Samoskevich, RW
25. Columbus Blue Jackets (from TOR): Corson Ceulemans, D
26. Minnesota Wild (from PIT): Carson Lambos, D
27. Nashville Predators (from CAR): Zachary L’Heureux, LW
28. Colorado Avalanche: Oskar Olausson, RW
29. New Jersey Devils (from NYI): Chase Stillman, RW
30. Vegas Golden Knights: Zach Dean, C
31. Montreal Canadiens: Logan Mailloux, D
32. Chicago Blackhawks (from TBL via CBJ): Nolan Allan, D