The Buffalo Sabres offense has been a game-changer this season.
After scoring 2.50 goals per 60 minutes in the 2021/22 season (23rd in NHL), the Sabres are now scoring an NHL-best 3.98 goals per 60. Narrow it down to just 5v5 numbers, and they jumped from 2.32 goals per 60 (25th in NHL) to 3.06 goals per 60 (2nd in NHL).
Those improvements on offense are remarkable, especially for a team whose only out-of-house additions were Tyson Jost and Ilya Lyubushkin. All of these improvements have been made in-house with the good players getting even better and the young players being straight-up good.
A majority of the credit for the increase in the Sabres’ offensive output goes to the obvious names: Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dahlin, Jeff Skinner, Dylan Cozens, etc. For good reason too. Tage Thompson is on pace for a 65-goal, 125-point season. Rasmus Dahlin is on pace to shatter the organizational scoring records for a defenseman that are currently held by a Hall of Famer.
Goals are the end result. Those who receive a point for them are the last one, two, or three players to touch the puck before it goes into the net. This is why points tend to be a good way to separate top offensive players from sub-par offensive players.
What about those oddball drivers of offense? Those players who are not typically among the last three players to touch the puck before it goes into the net, but create favorable situations for their teammates to put the puck in the back of the net.
The unsung heroes of a hockey team.
Look no further than 2021 1st overall pick, Owen Power. Is it possible for a 6’6” 1st overall pick to be underrated? Probably not. Is Owen Power having an under-the-radar stellar rookie campaign? Absolutely. He may “only” have 12 points in 30 NHL games this season, but he has been elite in creating offensive opportunities for his teammates.
So let’s dive into how Owen Power has become one of the premier rookie generators of 5v5 offense in the NHL:
As I mentioned earlier, the Buffalo Sabres rank 2nd in the NHL in 5v5 goals per 60 with 3.06 goals per 60.
With Owen Power on the ice, the Sabres score an incredible 4.17 goals per 60 at 5v5.
Without Power on the ice, the Sabres score a pedestrian 2.37 goals per 60 at 5v5.
Here is another impressive Owen Power 5v5 stat: the Sabres have scored more goals with Power on the ice (41) than without Power on the ice (38).
He has only been on ice for 38% of the Sabres’ ice time at 5v5, with the team scoring more goals in that 38% of ice time than the other 62%.
Let us take a quick look at where Owen Power’s 5v5 on-ice goals per 60 numbers rank among other NHL defenseman (minimum 400 TOI). You may see some familiar names on the list, especially at #1 and #8:
The fact that Owen Power is doing all of this stuff after having just turned 20-years-old over a month ago is absolutely insane.
How insane is it? Let’s take a look at Owen Power’s 5v5 on-ice goals per 60 numbers this season relative to past U21 defensemen NHL seasons since 2007/08. Once again you will find another familiar name topping this list:
So there are a few things working in Owen Power’s favor on this list. The NHL has been a higher-scoring league the past two seasons compared to some previous seasons in the data set. Also, the Sabres are shooting an impressive 12% when Owen Power is on the ice at 5v5.
Inflated on-ice shooting percentages are typically a major red flag when evaluating a defenseman’s GF/60 numbers. Defensemen typically aren’t the ones who shoot the puck with the greatest quantity and quality. So a good on-ice shooting percentage may be hard to repeat since it is more than likely driven by a defenseman’s forward linemates rather than the defenseman themselves.
Let’s just try to take the lucky shooting out of the equation. We can attempt to do this by looking at some on-ice Expected Goals For per 60 (xGF/60) numbers at 5v5. If the high shooting percentage is driven by having more dangerous chances, it is less of a concern.
Owen Power has a 3.12 xGF/60 at 5v5. His 5v5 xGF/60 numbers rank 19th among the 160 NHL defensemen with at least 400 5v5 minutes this season. His numbers place him 2nd among the 150 U21 defenseman seasons since 2007/08. The Sabres are not just generating a good amount of actual offense when Power is on the ice, but they are producing a great deal of expected offense as well. The goal numbers are driven by some substance.
What about the difference between his 3.12 xGF/60 and 4.17 GF/60 numbers at 5v5? The Sabres are producing more than expected when Owen Power is on the ice, is this driven by luck? Well, it could be, but the NHL play-by-play data that is used in public expected goal models has some blind spots.
One blind spot in public expected goal models are shots on the rush. The play-by-play data simply records the shot location and shot type. So all shot types from a certain area of the ice are treated the same when they are not the same. A rush shot or a shot with pre-shot movement is inherently more dangerous (and more likely to be a goal) than a stationary shot, but this is not always fully registered in public models.
Anyone who has watched the Buffalo Sabres this season knows that they are one of the premier rush teams in the NHL, especially when their top two forward lines are out there. Owen Power is one of the reasons why this team is so effective on the rush. So I feel comfortable crediting some of the difference between Power’s expected and actual numbers to some public model blindspots. The Sabres shots may be more dangerous than depicted by public models, therefore a higher shooting percentage is also expected.
15 of the 17 Sabres players that Owen Power has played at least 60 5v5 minutes with this season have posted better xGF/60 with Power on the ice compared to without. 15 of 17 also posted better GF/60 numbers with Power on the ice than without.
This chart from HockeyViz provides with a pretty good visual of Power’s on-ice impact on expected goals:
Essentially, he is supercharging the Sabres’ top 5v5 offensive players (Tuch, Thompson, Skinner, Quinn) by helping them generate even more offense. He is also dragging some of the Sabres’ worst 5v5 generators of offense into being somewhat competent generators (Mittelstadt, Olofsson, Okposo).
We can even break things down by line, thanks to the fantastic Environment Distiller tool on HockeyViz. I broke down these lines’ numbers with and without Owen Power on the ice with them. The sample size may be under an hour for some instances, but I still think there may be something here:
It is just obscene the amount of offense that some of the Sabres’ top offensive lines are producing with Owen Power on the ice.
He has not even played an hour with the Quinn-Cozens-Peterka line, yet they already have 6 goals together. Things are likely to cool down a bit, but it would take a lot for these numbers to cool down before they stop being incredibly impressive.
So while the Sabres’ offense may be running a little too hot while Owen Power is on the ice in terms of actual goals, there is some substance behind the production with fantastic expected goal backings and some very impressive opportunities on the rush. He may not be the player who creates all of this offense individually, but he creates an environment that lets his forwards cook.
This article regarding Owen Power’s sneaky good 5v5 offensive generation would not be complete without some footage of him working on his craft at the NHL level.
Let’s kick things off with a prototypical Owen Power breakout pass. He hits his teammate with a pinpoint pass, creates a 3v2 advantage with his pinpoint pass (watch how he draws in a forechecker before the pass), and lets the forwards cook in an advantageous situation. He does all of this while not even recording a point on the eventual goal:
He completes a lot of entry passes. Like a lot. I mean just check out these numbers via Stathletes. These numbers only represent the season up until November 23rd, but Owen Power finds his name on this list alongside some of the best offensive defensemen of this past decade. Oh and he’s the youngest on this list by about 8 years:
One reason Power is so fantastic in transition: he is fantastic at using the open space on the ice to his advantage. He draws in the forecheckers, stretches the amount of open space available in the middle of the ice, establishes space for his forwards to create on the rush, and hits them with a pinpoint pass. Calm, cool, and collected:
How about another clip with Owen Power manipulating space in a similar manner, this time with an even more aggressive forechecker:
I also want to discuss Owen Power in the offensive zone. He has a natural inclination to move the puck from an area of less danger to an area of more danger. He simply refuses to settle on a puck that he thinks he can improve the condition of, sometimes to a fault.
Most Sabres fans will likely recognize the goal scored in the below clip:
The way Power plays the game is a nightmare scenario for the people who yell “shoooot” whenever a defenseman has the puck at the point. He fools the opponents with a shot fake, moves the puck to newfound open space, gets the goalie moving, and rewards Victor Olofsson with one of the easiest goals he has ever scored. Pure brilliance from a (then) 19-year-old NHLer. Even when he is in open space, he will look to find even better open space.
Simply put, Owen Power is having one of the better seasons we have ever seen from a defenseman his age in the NHL. While his point production may say otherwise, he is a defenseman who has been able to create offense in non-traditional ways.
He plays the game in a selfless manner, always looking for ways to manipulate time and space to allow his teammate to create. It’s very easy to see why the Buffalo Sabres took him 1st overall in the 2021 NHL Draft as he is pretty much a coach’s dream on the blue line.
Will he ever develop Rasmus Dahlin’s finishing ability? Probably not, he’s never really been a volume shooter. Will he ever play with the same flare as Rasmus Dahlin? Also, probably not. He really does not have to do either of these things to be an effective offensive defenseman and this season is showing that. Dahlin and Power are two players who attack the game in different but good ways.
I do think there may be room for him to grow his point production as he becomes more confident with his individual skills in the offensive zone. Also, the fact that his team is scoring so much with him on the ice, he’s bound to pick up more points. However, his individual numbers have no bearing on whether or not he can be an effective offensive defenseman, as this season has illustrated.
Think of him as a supercharger of offense on the backend of the ice. He will make the good offensive lines (especially rush-heavy lines) better as he generates time, space, and opportunity for them to make the magic happen on offense. He also makes the poor offensive lines viable offensively by giving them the puck under better conditions.
He could be better on the defensive side of things, but that could be said of any 20-year-old defenseman in the NHL. That will improve in due time, making him an even bigger net positive presence when he is on the ice.
Owen Power is an incredible young defenseman who has really been the unsung hero of the Sabres’ offensive boom. Being able to toss him on one pair for 20+ minutes a night with Rasmus Dahlin on the other pair for 20+ minutes a night will be a massive advantage for this hockey club for many years to come.
[…] Zurowksi of The Charging Buffalo explored Power’s prowess back in December and found that with No. 25 on the ice, the Sabres scored 4.17 […]