The Sabres won the 2021 NHL Draft Lottery and are now on the clock with the first overall pick in the draft. This year there is likely only two options with the top pick and one of those options has emerged as the consensus pick, that option is Michigan defenseman Owen Power.
Power is likely the top choice for a few reasons, his combination of size and ability make him appealing to any NHL scout or GM. The other reason is the fact that this has been a weird year, and a lot of eligible players haven’t had the opportunity to get great film out into the world.
Regardless of the outside circumstances, GM of the Chicago Steel Ryan Hardy has no doubt in his mind that Power is going to be the guy the Sabres select.
“I don’t talk in hyperbolic statements. I just say it like it is and Owen Power is going to be a superstar. He might be the best player I’ve been around in my life,” Hardy said when talking about his former player with the Steel.
“I know there’s the sentiment in Buffalo that everyone wants a forward, but I think that when this kid starts playing for the Buffalo Sabres, people will realize that he’s way better than they ever thought he was.”
Power has a loaded toolbox containing a variety of skills that translate well to the next level, and while there’s room to improve in a few areas (as is with any prospect), he should have little to no trouble improving in these areas once he makes the jump to the next level.
Getting to know the player
The Mississauga native was born on November 22nd, 2002 and has been a solid player at every level of hockey he’s played in. In 2018-19 Power went to the USHL to play for the Chicago Steel, one of the best run programs in Junior hockey.
As a 15-year-old Power put up 25 points in 58 games for the Steel, finishing 3rd amongst defenseman in points and 2nd in goals for the team, and after that season the Steel knew they had something special.
“The thing about Owen is, when he first came to us he was 15 and we were talking internally, we’d watch him work and learn and the way he could apply concepts and we felt that at 15 that this kid might be the number one pick,” said Hardy.
In his second season with the Steel his production really took off, notching 40 points in 45 games leading all defenseman in points that season.
After two successful seasons in the USHL Power went to the University of Michigan and enjoyed a solid Freshman campaign. During the pandemic, Power had the luxury of getting to play a somewhat normal season in the NCAA and earned some awards (B1G All-Rookie team and 2nd Team All- B1G) for his 16-point campaign.
Now that the history of his career has been covered, it is time to breakdown the tools in his game that I like and a few areas of improvement for Power to work on.
Skating Ability/Jumping into the rush
Power’s skating is one of his tools that has split opinions. Some people say he needs to work on it, while others say that it is an area of improvement for him.
I fall under the category that believes this will be one of his biggest assets at the next level, it is not completely polished but when you break down his skating there is a lot to be excited about.
A 6-5 defenseman who loves to jump into the rush is not something you see everyday in the NHL, but Power shows a desire to be involved offensively. He does not have explosive speed, but he has a long stride and coupling that with his size allows him to navigate through the neutral zone rather quickly.
Plays like this are a reason to be high on Power’s skating ability, he uses his size and long-stride to create the zone entry and stays involved in the attack.
Here you can see Power’s edge work and use of his body on display. He moves laterally to avoid the opposing player in the defensive zone before heading up the ice.
Power does not have quick explosive strides, but he uses his leg strength to get up the ice in very few strides. From there he keeps his head up and using his puck control ability & his edgework he is able to navigate through the ice easier than someone his size should be able to.
Again, Power can get up and down the ice quickly because of the strength behind his stride. He makes two quick steps then reverts to a long stride.
This is a great display by Power because while moving through the zone he has his head up and constantly looks for a pass. As he gets close to the opposing blue line, he finds his teammate for the entry pass and again continues up with the attack.
Skating is an aspect of his game that he takes great pride in and has been going out of his way to work on since his time in the USHL.
“He would have his skating protocol here and obviously continued with it at Michigan and everyday after practice for at least 15-20 minutes he’s working on his footwork and working on his skating. He’s taking something that shouldn’t be easy for a 6-5 18-year-old and making it natural,” said Hardy.
“There’s times you see at the offensive blue line, the way he can maneuver, and it makes you go ‘wow’ that is way too smooth for a guy 6-5.”
Defenseman have to make an impact at both ends of the ice in today’s game and Power does have the tools to make an impact in the offensive zone.
He has strong offensive instincts and uses a combination of vision and passing ability to take advantage of those instincts. Power’s passing can be effective in multiple ways, he can setup his teammates for strong scoring opportunities or he can stretch the ice and use his passing to transition from defense to offense.
Dime 🎯 pic.twitter.com/TNgZtZPLjm— The Charging Buffalo (@TheChargingBUF) June 4, 2021
The stretch pass by Power here is an absolutely thing of beauty, there are few defenseman in the Sabres system that have the combination of skill and confidence to deliver a perfect stretch pass and hit a teammate in stride.
To me, his passing is most effective in the offensive zone. When he’s on the offensive attack and can pick apart the defensive setup of his opponents is when he is his most dangerous.
Power keeps his head on a swivel and finds York streaking down and he delivers a great pass hitting York in stride for the easy assist.
This is a really nice pass; he has a guy closing in on him and keeps his cool under pressure delivering the pass through that seam in the Arizona State defense. These types of setups look routine but take a lot of different elements to execute this smoothly.
Here, Power puts all his offensive tools together for a great assist. Power skates up into the rush and joins the offensive attack, receiving a pass in stride and immediately has his head up to spot Beniers in the slot and without hesitation Power delivers a pass for a tap-in goal.
Plays like this are why Power has produced at every level, when he’s quick with his decision making and trusts his offensive ability, he can really impact the game.
As a defenseman, having a strong shot can mean a few different things. Power does not have a rocket slapshot like SAs a defenseman, having a strong shot can mean a few different things. Power does not have a rocket slapshot like Shea Weber but what Power can do get his shot through traffic and on net. For a defenseman, getting your shot through is more effective than just blasting the puck as hard as you can into a field of bodies.
Power generates shots from everywhere in the offensive zone, and he is able to get the puck on net. As cliché as it sounds, for a blue liner getting pucks on net is a valuable skill in today’s game because it can create potential rebound opportunities or even goals.
Although the goalie makes the save here, Power gets the one-timer off and with the bodies in front of the net it is not a slam dunk save for the goalie.
Going on record as a person against aimless point shots, I can appreciate the ability to get the puck through traffic and at least generate a shot on net. This is a skill that is important for defenseman in the NHL because hammering pucks into opposing players shin pads only leads to odd-man rushes going the other way or a change of possession.
If he can get some more strength behind his shot, Power will become a threat to score from the point but because of his tendency to jump into the rush and his ability to generate shot attempts from all over, Power does not have to be a player that has an overpowering slap shot to be effective in the NHL.
Merely watching a player’s film only allows you to get a partial picture of his game, and that’s why talking to Hardy was so beneficial to this piece. He was able to provide an insight into the person Owen is and how he handles himself in the locker room.
This aspect is always important, but it’s especially important in Buffalo right now because of the way the organization has handled the last few seasons. Buffalo needs players who not only have talent but have the ability to focus on their game and buy into what the direction of the team is.
“He has a commanding presence, and everybody respects him,” his former GM said. “He doesn’t think he’s above anyone and he treats everyone with respect.”
With it being widely assumed that Buffalo will be going young and trading off star center Jack Eichel, they will need their new players to step up help get the team on the right path.
If Power can become a great NHL player and bring that respect from his teammates, the Sabres would be thrilled.
“I think he’s a #1 defenceman for 15-20 years and I think that he’s going to be a true leader and drive that culture, he can do everything.”
Areas of Concern/Improvement
Now that we’ve talked about his three biggest assets, it’s time to highlight a few areas of improvement that Power needs to work on in order to become a great NHL defender.
Using his size to his advantage
There are some people out there that claim that Power does not use his size when defending, that is only true if you factor in physicality. No he does not throw bone crushing hits on a regular basis but Power does use his size while defending.
The reason that I have this under the “areas for improvement” category is that Power needs to become more assertive and proactive when using his size while defending rather than using it in a reactionary way.
If he can start to use his size to dictate where his opponents go and take away space from them while defending the rush he has the potential to become a truly elite defender.
At the World Championships he displayed a very good example of how effective he can be when he uses his skating and his body to dictate where the attacker has to go.
Power takes initiative while defending this play, he uses his body and his reach to take away the middle of the ice and he pushes the defender to the outside boards basically negating the attack.
If he can consistently do this at the next level, then the sky will be the limit for his potential.
Of course, there are instances where he does not use his body to dictate the play. Sometimes he has a knack to get beat, and then is forced to use his size in a reactionary way.
The opponent gets the position of strength on this play and has Power beat to the loose puck, but he is able to use his body and long reach to break up the play before anything can happen. While Power shows his ability to defend with his reach, he did not allow himself to dictate the play.
If he can limit the amount of times he has to rely on his size to save him and instead learn to use his size as a strength, then he will have no problems adjusting to the next level.
Power must find consistency in using his body as a weapon rather than a life raft and if the World Championships are any indicator, I think that there’s a better chance than not that he will figure it out at the next level.
Processing Speed/Decision Making
Any hockey player needs to process the game fast and make the right decisions based on how the play around them develops. As a defenseman it is even more crucial because you are generally the last line of defense and the one starting your offensive transition.
At times Power is confident and quick with his decision making, when he plays with confidence and trusts his instincts he excels and it’s easy to see why he’s considered by many to be the draft’s top-prospect.
The issue with Power is sometimes he hesitates and can be slow on his decision making.
He grabs the puck at the blue line and begins to work towards the center of the zone (good) but rather than pulling the trigger quickly he hesitates for a second, allowing the Ohio State player to close in and deflect his shot attempt wide of the goal.
When playing against NHLers who have even faster closing speed he will need to make these decisions a little quicker or it could cost him going the other way.
In the offensive zone these mistakes will only be highlighted if the opponent goes the other way and generates a scoring chance but in the defensive zone these mistakes are always going to be highlighted because teams can’t afford to give up puck possession in their own zone.
Power grabs the puck and immediately realizes he does not have an easy outlet so he keeps the puck rather than throwing it away (good) but once he gets below the goal line he does not have another plan in place, allowing the Arizona State forwards to force him into throwing the puck up the boards (bad).
The game of hockey is so fast, and every decision needs to be made quickly otherwise mistakes will be made.
Will he adjust/improve?
While there are a few areas that he needs to work on, Power has shown throughout his young hockey career that not only is he open to coaching/help, but he constantly wants to get better.
“It’s not very often that a kid this talented is constantly working in areas of improvement and constantly saying that ‘yeah I’m not good enough, I have to improve here and get better at this’,” Hardy said.
“He identifies the areas that he can continue to grow, and he keeps working at them, this is why I have no doubt that he’s the #1 pick.”
Power showed this a bit at the World Championships, he started with a small role and as the tournament went along he adjusted his game and eventually became on of Canada’s most used defenders at the end.
“He has all the tools & all the mental makeup along with his potential where a lot of guys have the potential, but they never reach their ceiling because they don’t have that mental makeup.”
If Power becomes a Sabre they are getting a player with immense offensive talent and the potential to really grow into a great two-way defender.
Adding him to a group that already features Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju, Mattias Samuelsson, Will Borgen, Ryan Johnson and Oskari Laaksonen will give the Sabres a solid group of defenders to build their team around in the future.
Whether he returns to Michigan like he hinted at, or leaves to join the NHL Power will have opportunities to play and continue to grow his offensive game and to work on the areas that he needs to improve.
The Sabres look like their heading towards another rebuild and adding Power to the fold gives them another solid foundational player for their future.