BOSTON — When news broke Friday that Owen Power had signed an entry-level contract with the Buffalo Sabers, Kevyn Adams received an avalanche of text messages from the team’s players.
In Florida, preparing for a game against the Panthers, the Sabers wanted to know when their new teammate was due to arrive and how they could congratulate him on the start of a professional career.
“They wanted to get in touch with him,” Adams, the club’s chief executive, said in a video conference call. “That tells me a lot about what this group is about. And you know how excited they are to have it on.”
The hype surrounding Power’s arrival intensified late Thursday night when his season ended with Michigan’s devastating overtime loss to Denver in the Frozen Four at Boston’s TD Garden. And that will increase in the coming days, as Power is set to join the Sabers on Saturday in Tampa, Fla., and he’s tentatively set to make his NHL debut on Tuesday night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. Scotiabank Arena is a short drive from the family home in Mississauga, Ontario.
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“We’re really looking forward to him joining us here shortly,” forward Jeff Skinner said after the Sabers’ 4-3 loss to Florida. “There’s obviously a lot of excitement and there should be. He’s going to be a great player for us. And we’re delighted for him.”
The final weeks of the Sabers season will be Power’s taste of his NHL career. He returned to Michigan — the first No. 1 draft pick to wait to turn pro since Erik Johnson in 2006 — to win a national championship as a sophomore and experience a normal college hockey season after the Covid-19 pandemic l prevented him from playing in front. large crowds in first grade. Now, he’ll join the thriving young core Sabers that have been gaining momentum in the second half of the season.
“It’s a proud day for our organization,” added Adams. “We certainly believe in Owen and his abilities on and off the ice, just the person he is. You’ve heard me talk time and time again about the culture and what we’re building here and he’s a person. phenomenal, a human being just the way he carries himself. He treats people well. We’re excited to see him join this group and come in and be himself. And he can just come in and play. He doesn’t have to feeling like the weight of the world rests on his shoulders.”
The season went brilliantly for Power, as he tallied three goals and 32 points in 33 games. He was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and led the Wolverines to a conference tournament title. In between, Power represented Canada at the Beijing Winter Olympics, where he led the team in average time on ice per game. Prior to the abrupt cancellation of the IIHF World Junior Championship, Power became the first Canadian defenseman to score a hat trick in the tournament when he accomplished the feat in the opener.
Power will enter the NHL with high expectations, but he won’t be asked to take on a heavy workload or huge responsibilities right away. The Sabers have first-choice Rasmus Dahlin and Mattias Samuelsson on the left side as teammates, which will allow coach Don Granato to use power in specific situations to aid his development.
“He’s going to bring new energy and I’ve heard nothing but good things about him,” Dahlin said. “We’re super excited to have him. He’ll probably refresh my mind with some attacking play. He’ll be a great addition to have in our team.”
The club’s depth chart when it comes to defense also includes Henri Jokiharju, Jacob Bryson, Casey Fitzgerald, Mark Pysyk, Colin Miller and Will Butcher. Adams spoke to Dahlin on Wednesday about his role in helping Power settle into the NHL.
“I really believe Owen, the transition, Rasmus went through it,” Adams told The Buffalo News at the Frozen Four. “He’s young, but Rasmus has taken huge steps forward and he’s a leader. You’ve got this group with him, Sameulsson, Jokiharju, Bryson. They’re young players, but Owen can just come in and play. Be a number one choice, having a guy next to you in the locker room who’s in that position helps that transition.”
Power comes with experience against older players, having also represented Canada at the world championships last spring. He started the tournament in a deep role before moving up to the first pair, leading the club in average ice time per game as the team won the gold medal. Going back to school also gave Power more time to mature on and off the ice. He became a more complete defenseman by demonstrating improved instincts in the offensive zone and forechecking savvy near his own net.
In the overtime loss to the Michigan Frozen Four, Power skated with three different defense partners, including Luke Hughes, and played on the shorthanded right side. He apparently took all other shifts late in the settlement and overtime.
“It’s amazing to be with him all the time, just because of the time he puts in, the commitment he has to the game and the love he has for the game,” said the Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo, a Sabers prospect. “But also, I think he’s really taken steps to be the first D man. To be that strong bond that anyone can trust in any situation. That’s where I’ve seen him grow most.
“You can trust him, you feel so good when he’s there.”
A memorable season for Power and the Michigan Wolverines ended Thursday night with a 3-2 overtime loss to Denver in the Frozen Four at TD Garden.
There was no doubt that Power would be done with college hockey after his second season. Regardless of Michigan’s tournament results, Power planned to join Buffalo at the end of Michigan’s season. But the timing of his arrival is ideal for him and the Sabers.
The club has seen significant growth on the ice since returning to nearly full health, posting an 8-3-3 record in March with wins over Toronto, Vegas, Calgary, Vancouver and Pittsburgh. The Sabres’ eight-game point streak from March 8 to April 1 was their longest since the 10-game winning streak in November 2018.
The franchise’s playoff drought has reached 11 seasons, but the outlook hasn’t been this bright in some time. Their pool of prospects in Rochester will strengthen significantly if Adams manages to sign Portillo and Minnesota defenseman Ryan Johnson, a junior drafted 31st overall in 2019. But Power will enter the NHL immediately, bolstering a defense corps that has grown vastly improved with the development of Dahlin and Samuelsson, in particular.
“He’s got an incredible amount of attributes to go with the height,” Sabers coach Don Granato said of Power, who is 6-foot-6. “And obviously size is his size now, but it’s going to keep getting stronger and stronger. … He’s got an incredible composure in his game, he can slow the pace and dictate the pace. But again, in all honesty for him, he’s going to have time. It’s going to take time like all the other great players to acclimatize to this level. He’s never experienced that, even though he has the advantage of having men’s world championships and playing with men, but that’s another ice It’s a different game, the NHL is the NHL, it’s the highest level And it’s going to be fun to see it go by this process.
News Sports Writer Mike Harrington contributed to this report.