ARLINGTON, Va. – Standing in the lobby at MedStar Capitals IcePlex, Owen Power stared off into the distance as he posed for one last portrait that might be used on an Upper Deck trading card.
A 6-foot-6 defenseman, Power appeared even more imposing on skates and in full equipment while wearing his Buffalo Sabres jersey, but as soon as the flash went off, his cheeks blushed. Behind the photographer, fellow rookie defenseman Braden Schneider of the New York Rangers burst out laughing. Power’s soon-to-be teammate, Jack Quinn, joined in.
Power was called over to look at the camera's LCD screen and received a pat on the back from the photographer for playing along during the photo shoot. Admittedly, Power is still getting used to the publicity and attention that came with his selection with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NHL draft.
“I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite thing,” Power joked during an interview with The Buffalo News, “but it’s stuff that comes with playing hockey. You gotta do it, and you gotta get used to it."
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His visit to the Washington Capitals’ practice facility Tuesday for the NHLPA Rookie Showcase was the latest in a short list of in-person, league-centric media events that he’s attended since he became the Sabres’ fourth No. 1 pick in franchise history. Power spoke to reporters, signed numerous items for Upper Deck and went through three photo shoots throughout the day.
The opening of the rookie defenseman's first NHL training camp in just over three weeks will get quite a hype machine revved up, as Power is expected to be in the thick of the battle for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year.
It was unlike anything Power had experienced. He didn’t have a scouting combine or in-person draft, which allowed him to remain where he’s most comfortable: away from the spotlight, obsessively working to become the best.
This was an introduction of what’s to come. His remarkable play in eight games with the Sabres last April, combined with a limitless potential that’s drawn comparisons to hall-of-fame defensemen, has generated hype and buzz across the NHL. Power has been described as quiet, humble and supremely dedicated, and those who know him best say he has what it takes to navigate the situation with the same poise he showcases every time he has the puck on his stick or when he's defending against the best in the world.
“He’s one of the most humble guys I’ve ever met,” noted Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers, who played with Power at the University of Michigan. “You would never guess he went first overall in the NHL draft.”
Power, now 19 years old, has always been obsessed with hockey. He didn’t collect trading cards, but he couldn’t watch enough of the sport. Thomas Bordeleau, another former teammate now with the San Jose Sharks, joked that he refused to live with Power in college because, even on off days, Power would always want to watch or talk hockey.
"He just can't get enough hockey," said Bordeleau.
When the Covid-19 pandemic caused the University of Michigan to shut down their dorms for the 2020-21 academic year, Power and five teammates, including fellow Sabres prospect Erik Portillo, rented a six-bedroom home near campus. Power and Portillo, equally obsessed with their craft, got the smallest rooms because they left the house hunting up to their roommates.
Once everyone moved in, they discovered Power always wanted to watch hockey, whether it was a game, highlights or an online video. He searches for nuances that he can add to his game, whether it’s by observing a forward or defensemen. Though Power doesn’t model his game after any specific player, he particularly enjoys watching and learning from Victor Hedman, Roman Josi and Adam Fox.
“Everything he does is about getting better,” said Michigan teammate Brendan Brisson, a prospect of the Vegas Golden Knights. “He takes himself really seriously when it comes to hockey, which is really cool to be around. And I was lucky to be around it for three years and watch his development, on and off the ice."
When Wolverines practices concluded over the past two seasons, Power would break off from the group and work by himself on a specific skill, whether it be his first three steps to improve quickness or stick positioning in the defensive zone.
Despite his selection first overall by the Sabres in July 2021, Power always planned to return to Michigan for his sophomore season. He expressed confidence in his ability to make the immediate jump to the NHL but didn’t want to rush his development. There were specific areas he wanted to improve, and history shows that defensemen benefit from remaining in the NCAA for an additional season.
“He's a really smart player,” Beniers added. “And I mean, he kind of has all the assets. Doesn't really miss on any. He's smart, he's big, he plays the right way. There's really no cheat in his game. I think all those qualities, when you put them in an NHL game, and he's gonna succeed wherever he is.”
Power helped Michigan’s star-studded lineup reach the Frozen Four in April, where the Wolverines lost in overtime to eventual national champion Denver. As a sophomore, he was selected to the NCAA All-Region Team, All-Big Ten first team and, unsurprisingly, a finalist for the conference’s defensive player of the year.
His No. 22 shirt was sold for $45 at Yost Ice Arena during home games last season and everywhere he went, attention followed. He and his teammates thrived amid the immense expectations. Power looked like a professional playing against amateurs. He used his size and strength to routinely take away the puck from opposing forwards. Power made more dynamic plays with the puck, particularly in the offensive zone when there's less time to find an open teammate and less space to thread passes to setup scoring chances.
While Power continued his ascent on the ice, he remained the same off it.
Power routinely cooked for his roommates – he didn’t know how to make anything or do his own laundry when he first arrived at Michigan, Wolverines captain Nick Blankenburg said following the Frozen Four loss – and his bedroom looked the same as it did his freshman year. Power, then months away from signing an NHL contract, kept his mattress on the floor.
“He just can't get enough of hockey and that's what makes his mind so good at hockey,” said Bordeleau. “He just watches so much of it and can’t get enough. You can always see how dedicated he is. … He's definitely out of his shell after going first overall and his first strides in the NHL. He's definitely over all of that, but before he was more, 'Yeah, I don't want anything to do with that.'”
For the first time in two years, Power could finally take a break from hockey this summer. His only appearance in the spotlight for a few months occurred when he was at a Blue Jays game in June. Sitting in the left-field seats at Rogers Centre, Power was holding a bag of popcorn when a Danny Jansen home run ball headed in his direction.
Power stood up to try to make the play but couldn’t haul in the ball. The text messages began to pour in from people who saw it on the television broadcast or social media. Otherwise, Power worked quietly near his family’s home in Mississauga.
Equipped with hindsight from his 22:04 of average ice time across eight games with the Sabres, which ranked third on the team during that span, Power focused on specific areas that will help him have success in the NHL. His emphasis was on defense, both on the rush and in his own zone, but he also tried to enhance his strengths.
“I think it was nice to get those games and just know that you belong there and you're able to play there,” he said. “I think going in you’re always kind of worried about the adjustment. ‘How good are these guys, really, and how are you going to fit in?' I think it's nice just to be able to see that you can play and be able to use that as a steppingstone into this year.”
Power will enter training camp knowing how coach Don Granato runs practices, and the systems the Sabres will use when the season opens Oct. 13 at home against Ottawa. He's already developed chemistry with teammates, including his primary defense partner in April, Henri Jokiharju, and feels comfortable turning to veteran forward Kyle Okposo for sage advice.
Already proved capable of thriving in the NHL, Power is prepared for the inevitable difficult moments that occur when a young defenseman adjusts to the NHL. He experienced a few during his short time with Buffalo late last season. But he won't be the only Sabres blue liner going through that process.
The Sabres’ defense corps is arguably the strength of their team, led by Power, Jokiharju, Rasmus Dahlin and Mattias Samuelsson. And the average age of the projected top six is only 23 years old.
The club’s play during the final two months of last season, most notably, a points percentage that ranked 13th in the NHL, occurred, in large part, because Buffalo had a stable of defensemen who could cleanly break the puck out of the zone to create chances off the rush and limit quality chances against its goaltender.
Power's role on a promising young club with talented forwards has led many hockey writers and analysts to consider him the early favorite to win the Calder Trophy, which is awarded annually to the NHL's rookie of the year.
And although the spotlight will follow Power, he’ll be sharing it with Dahlin and others.
“I wasn’t surprised at all when I watched him with Buffalo, how steady and how comfortable he looked,” Brisson said. “He’s going to have a great season.”