Owen Power, who was selected first-overall in the 2021 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres, has reportedly chosen to return to school for the upcoming season. Rather than joining a struggling Sabres team right out of the gate, Power is set to return to the University of Michigan, an unsurprising and smart move for the 18-year-old.
Let’s get one thing straight: I am nearly always of the opinion that a player should return to school if they have the option, even moreso at such a young age. Power is only just coming off his freshman season, and at 18, he’s still very young. Is he good? Yes. Can he benefit from at least one more season of college hockey? Absolutely.
There is no reason to rush into the NHL, particularly to join a Sabres team that won’t be at or near the top of the league. There’s also the inherent pressure that comes with being a first-overall draft pick (or even a high pick in general), and the increased pressure that then comes with making the transition to pro hockey.
We’ve seen it before & we’ll see it again elsewhere: a young player makes the jump, the weight of the franchise is on their shoulders, and inevitably, it doesn’t go the way everyone had hoped it would. Said player is considered a “bust,” is traded & finds success elsewhere. Let’s not set ourselves up for that situation here.
Once a player makes the decision to jump to the NHL, there’s no turning back.
I’m not saying that every collegiate player out there needs to use every year of NCAA eligibility they have. For some, it may be logical to make the transition after two or three years of playing college hockey. That may even end up being the case for Power in a year or two. But with just one season of college hockey under his belt, and at the young age of 18, why not go back to a strong Michigan organization with a lot going for it?
By returning to Michigan, Power returns to a team filled with potential future NHL talent and incredible depth, himself included. Goaltender Erik Portillo is a Sabres prospect, drafted 67th overall in 2019 and heading into his sophomore season. They’re joined by forwards Matty Beniers, the first-ever draft pick of the Seattle Kraken; Kent Johnson (Columbus) and Mackie Samoskevich (Florida), as well as Eric Ciccolini, Johnny Beecher, Brendan Brisson and Thomas Bordeleau, all of whom have NHL rights. Defensemen Ethan Edwards and, of course, Luke Hughes, round out the bunch.
The Wolverines went 15-10-1 overall last season, accruing 32 points in conference play and finishing fourth in the Big Ten. After beating Ohio State in the first round, they fell to Minnesota in overtime in the semifinal.
Power is returning to a college hockey powerhouse with a real chance at an NCAA championship this season, and will also presumably get the opportunity to compete in the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships for Canada, too. And let’s not forget the human aspect of this - he’ll also be afforded the chance to still be somewhat of a *kid*. After all, he’ll turn 19 in November; like anyone that age, he’s likely still got some growing up to do, and some (responsible) fun to be had. Let him enjoy that.
It’s absolutely the right move for Power at this point in his life, and his hockey career.
Then, maybe, depending on how things go this year, we’ll see Power join the Sabres at the end of the year for a handful of games, or suit up for the team full-time in the 2022-23 season, if - and only if - that’s the right move for his life, his playing career and the Sabres at that point in time.