Elation regarding No. 1 picks in Buffalo has taken a bit of a hit recently, but when it comes to 2021 first overall pick Owen Power, excitement is justified, and jubilation should follow because he is doing dynamic things in college hockey.
The University of Michigan sophomore is tied for second in the nation in scoring with 23 points along with Wolverines teammate Kent Johnson. He is the top scoring defenseman in the NCAA, seven points ahead of North Dakota’s Josh Sanderson, Western Michigan’s Michael Joyaux, and Lake Superior State’s Jacob Bengtsson.
Through 16 games he has three goals and 20 assists and averages nearly a point-and-a-half per game (1.44 to be exact). He’s had points in 13 of Michigan’s 16 games with seven multi-point games and 12 of his 20 assists have come on the power play. In Big Ten play alone, Power has two goals and 12 assists in eight games. The raw scoring numbers show he’s producing at an elite level, particularly for a 19-year-old.
To put college numbers into perspective, we’ll compare Power to a pair of recent defensemen who jumped to the NHL after two seasons: Charlie McAvoy in 2016-2017 and Cale Makar in 2018-2019.
McAvoy was the 14th pick in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Boston Bruins, selected after he completed his freshman season at Boston University. Like Power, he already had a year of college hockey under his belt by the time his name was called at the draft in Buffalo. In two seasons with the Terriers he had 51 points in 75 games and he joined the Bruins after his loaded BU team lost in the NCAA West Regional to Minnesota Duluth. His career 0.68 points per game doesn’t necessarily jump out, but when McAvoy arrived in the NHL, he took a big step and became instantly indispensable for the Bruins.
You may be familiar with Makar.
He won the Hobey during his sophomore season at UMass and helped lead the Minutemen to the national championship game in Buffalo where, like McAvoy, they lost to Minnesota Duluth. Makar was a sensation in 2018-2019 with 16 goals and 49 points in 41 games (1.19 PPG). He went on to join the Colorado Avalanche following the national title game and made his NHL debut in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He went on to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2020.
There’s a lot of season left for Power, but his point-per-game rate being that high compared to Makar is eye-popping even with Power’s team being loaded with NHL first-round picks. As McAvoy’s numbers showed, it’s not always easy to load up on points with a roster full of talent.
It’s no surprise that Power was named to Team Canada’s preliminary World Junior Championship roster on Wednesday and will be their top defenseman in the tournament. After all, he was a major contributor for Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Championship and helped lead them to the gold medal at 18 years old.
Standing at 6-foot-6 and 214 pounds, Power is an imposing defenseman at the NCAA level and already has a professional frame. Using that size to defend well and have the kind of skill needed to produce points at the rate he is makes it worth anyone’s time to watch a Michigan game or two or seven. Power will be a Hobey Baker Award finalist and he very well may win it. Putting up gaudy numbers from the blue line almost certainly wins votes on its own, but when they’re outstanding compared to even the top forwards… it’s fait accompli.
Now Joe, listen, there’s already a No. 1 pick defenseman in Buffalo and that’s not exactly going great. Why should we buy into Power?
This is a fair question to ask.
Yes, Rasmus Dahlin hasn’t been impressive this season outside of his raw point numbers. The missteps on the power play, the turnovers, the lack of confidence in his game would give anyone reason to pause when it comes to bringing in another highly touted and top-rated young defenseman.
Trying to compare what Power is doing in the NCAA to what Dahlin did in the Swedish Hockey League and now the NHL is a case of comparing apples to oranges to rutabagas. Therefore, the comparisons with Makar make more sense to a degree.
Makar was The Man on his UMass team and all offense ran through him. While that roster had some solid college talent on it and they were able to make it to the national title game, Makar ran the show. Power doesn’t necessarily have to do that at Michigan.
Power has a load of NHL-bound talent surrounding him with defenseman Luke Hughes along with forwards Johnson, Brendan Brisson, Matty Beniers, Thomas Bordeleau, and Mackie Samoskevich standing out amongst them. Michigan’s top power play unit would still be dangerous without Power, but with him they have the third-best power play in college hockey, scoring at a 31.7 percent clip.
Power is also having an incredible season on one of the youngest teams in the country. Six teams have a younger average age than Michigan and even there it’s a fractional difference. Like Makar, Power must be a leader of sorts because he’s playing big minutes and even among all the other young players, he’s still one of the youngest of the bunch (thanks to a late-November birthday).
When Power arrives in Buffalo, be it immediately after his Michigan season ends or at the start of next season (because he will sign, you doom-and-gloomers), the expectations will be high but with hesitation because of what’s happened with Dahlin. If anything, expectations being kept level will be good for Power because he will get compared to Dahlin and that may not be even fair to Dahlin because they play different styles.
Regardless, there’s a lot of reason for Buffalo Sabres fans to have high hopes for Power and, as the season rolls on, you’ll continue to see why.