BOSTON — Kevyn Adams received a barrage of text messages from players on the team when it was announced Friday that Owen Power had signed a junior contract with the Buffalo Sabers.
In Florida, the Sabers were preparing for a game against the Panthers and wanted to know when their newest teammate would be arriving and how to congratulate him on starting his pro career.
“They wanted to get in touch with him,” Adams, the club’s general manager, said during a video conference call. “It tells me a lot about what this group is about. And you know how excited they are to welcome him.”
Hype surrounding Power’s arrival increased late Thursday night as his season ended with Michigan’s devastating overtime loss to Denver in the Frozen Four at Boston’s TD Garden. And it’s set to increase in the coming days, as Power is expected to join the Sabers in Tampa, Fla. on Saturday, and he’s expected to make his NHL debut against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night in Toronto. Scotiabank Arena is a short drive from his family’s home in Mississauga, Ontario.
People also read…
“We’re really looking forward to him coming here shortly,” said forward Jeff Skinner after the Sabers’ 4-3 loss to Florida. “There is obviously a lot of excitement and there should be. He will be a great player for us. And we look forward to him.”
The final weeks of the Sabers season will be Power’s preview of his NHL career. He returned to Michigan — the first No. 1 draft pick since Erik Johnson was waiting to turn pro in 2006 — to win a national championship as a sophomore and have a normal college hockey season after the Covid-19 pandemic had prevented him from playing in front of large crowds as a freshman. Now he will join the thriving young core of the Sabers, who have made great strides in the second half of the season.
“This is a proud day for our organization,” added Adams. “We definitely believe in Owen and his ability on and off the ice, the person he is. You’ve heard me talk about culture and what we’re building here over and over again, and he’s a phenomenal person, a person the way he carries himself. He treats people well. We’re excited for him to join this group and come in and be himself. And he can just come in and play. He doesn’t have to feel like the weight the world is on his shoulders.”
The season was excellent for Power as he recorded 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 per game. Prior to the abrupt cancellation of the IIHF World Junior Championship, Power became the first defender from Canada to score a hat-trick in the tournament when he pulled off the feat in the opening game.
Power will enter the NHL with high expectations, but he won’t be immediately asked to take on a heavy workload or immense responsibility. The Sabers have chosen Rasmus Dahlin and number 1 Mattias Samuelsson at left flank, allowing coach Don Granato to use power in certain situations to aid his development.
“He will bring renewed energy and I’ve only heard good things about him,” said Dahlin. “We are very happy to have him. He’ll probably refresh me with a little offensive play. It will be a great piece for our team.
The club’s depth chart on defense also includes Henri Jokiharju, Jacob Bryson, Casey Fitzgerald, Mark Pysyk, Colin Miller and Will Butcher. Adams spoke to Dahlin Wednesday about his role in helping Power adjust to the NHL.
“I really think Owen, the transition, Rasmus went through it,” Adams told The Buffalo News at Frozen Four. “He’s young but Rasmus has made big strides and he’s a leader. You have this group with him, Sameulsson, Jokiharju, Bryson. They’re young players but Owen can just come in and play. Being number one, too Having a guy next to you in the dressing room who is in that position helps with that transition.”
Power comes with experience against older players, having also represented Canada at the World Cup last spring. He started the tournament in a deep role before rising to top pair and leading the club in average ice time per game as the team won the gold medal. Returning to school also bought Power more time to mature on and off the ice. He became a more versatile defender, showing improved offensive zone instincts and a skilled forecheck near his own net.
In Michigan’s Frozen Four loss in overtime, Power skated with three different defensive partners, including Luke Hughes, and played at right touchline in penalties. He apparently took over every other shift late in regulation and during overtime.
“It’s incredible to be with him all the time just because of the time he puts in, the dedication he has for the game and the love he has for the game,” said goalkeeper Erik Portillo from Michigan, a potential Sabers player. “But I also think he really made strides to be the first D man. To be the strong link that everyone can trust in any situation. That’s where I saw it grow the most.
“You can trust him, you feel so good when he’s out there.”
A memorable season for Power and the Michigan Wolverines ended Thursday night in a 3-2 overtime loss to Denver at the Frozen Four at TD Garden.
There was never any doubt that Power would be done with college hockey after his sophomore season. Regardless of Michigan’s tournament results, Power planned to join Buffalo at Michigan’s end of the season. But the timing of his arrival is ideal for him and the Sabers.
The club has shown notable growth on the ice since returning to near-health, posting an 8-3-3 record in March with victories over Toronto, Vegas, Calgary, Vancouver and Pittsburgh. The Sabers’ eight-game point streak from March 8 through April 1 was the longest since their 10-game winning streak in November 2018.
The franchise’s playoff drought entered its 11th season, but the outlook hasn’t been this good in a while. Their potential pool at Rochester will be significantly boosted if Adams manages to sign Portillo and Minnesota defenseman Ryan Johnson, a junior who was drafted 31st overall in 2019. But Power will join the NHL immediately, bolstering a defensive corps that has drastically improved with the development of Dahlin and Samuelsson in particular.
“He has an incredible number of attributes that come with his height,” Sabers coach Don Granato said of Power, who is 6ft 6 tall. “And obviously the size is its size now, but it’s just getting stronger and stronger. … He has incredible calm in his game, he can slow the pace and dictate the pace. But again, in fairness to him, he will have time. It will take time, like all other great players, to get used to this level. He’s never experienced it, despite having the advantage of having men’s world championships and playing with men, but it’s a different sheet of ice. It’s a different game, the NHL is the NHL, it’s the highest level. And it will be fun to watch him go through that process.”
News Sports Writer Mike Harrington contributed to this report.