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Sabres notebook: Owen Power, Devon Levi among prospects in action Friday

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Michigan Hockey (copy)

Owen Power was drafted first overall by Buffalo in July 2021.

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Sabres fans won’t have to wait until the puck drops Friday night in KeyBank Center to watch key players in the franchise’s future success.

Five of the club’s six prospects in the NCAA tournament – Owen Power and Erik Portillo of Michigan; Ryan Johnson and Aaron Huglen at Minnesota; and Devon Levi with Northeastern – will be in action as part of a first-round ESPNU tripleheader, beginning with Levi against Western Michigan at noon.

Power, Portillo and the top-seeded Wolverines will face American International College at 3 p.m., followed by Johnson, Huglen and the Golden Gophers against UMass at 6 p.m.

The NCAA Frozen Four begins April 7 at Boston’s TD Garden with the national championship scheduled for April 9 in the same venue.

Matteo Costantini, a fifth-round draft choice of Buffalo in 2020 and a Jr. Sabres alumnus, was expected to be in North Dakota's lineup Thursday for its first-round matchup against Notre Dame.

This tournament is one of several reasons why Power chose to become the first No. 1 overall draft choice since Erik Johnson in 2006 to wait to sign an entry-level contract. Power, 19, wanted to experience a real college hockey season with fans, particularly at Michigan’s raucous Yost Ice Arena, and high-stakes tournaments. The Wolverines' tournament ended before it began last spring because of Covid-19 positive tests that forced the team to forfeit. 

Power and Portillo helped the Wolverines secure the top seed last week with a victory in the Big Ten Championship game over Minnesota.

Drafted first overall in July, Power was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year for a sophomore season that’s included three goals and 27 points in 30 games. The left-shot defenseman is expected to sign an entry-level contract with Buffalo at the conclusion of the postseason.

Portillo, a third-round pick of the Sabres in 2019, was named the Big Ten Tournament MVP after leading Michigan to the title, the latest achievement in a remarkable season for the 21-year-old. He has a 29-9-1 record, a .928 save percentage and a 2.06 goals-against average.

Their postseason success last weekend came at the expense of Minnesota. Johnson, a left-shot defenseman, was drafted 31st overall by Buffalo in 2019 with the pick acquired from St. Louis in the Ryan O’Reilly trade. Johnson is still only 20 years old and took another step in his development this season, totaling two goals and 18 points in 36 games as a junior.

Huglen, meanwhile, is almost three years removed from a back injury that cost him the 2019-20 season. The 21-year-old returned to the ice last season with Fargo of the United States Hockey League and is now a freshman at Minnesota, where he has three goals and 14 points in 34 games as a center.

If Minnesota wins, it could face Northeastern in the second round, a difficult matchup with Levi in goal. Levi is a Hobey Baker finalist during a season in which he shattered Northeastern school records. He owns a .952 save percentage with 10 shutouts, a 1.52 goals-against average and a record of 21-9-1. The 20-year-old was acquired, along with a 2022 first-round draft choice, in the trade that sent Sam Reinhart to the Florida Panthers.

Opponent watch

The Sabres (23-33-8) will face the Capitals (35-20-10) on Friday night for the third and final time this season. Washington is 7-2-1 in its last 10 games and has lost two straight after falling to St. Louis, 5-2, on Monday night.

The Capitals acquired two former Sabres ahead of the trade deadline, Marcus Johansson and Johan Larsson, but Larsson is still recovering from a sports hernia. Alex Ovechkin has 40 goals this season, now 770 for his career, and needs only 31 to tie Gordie Howe for second on the all-time list.

Lineup notes

Sabres winger John Hayden remains in a Vancouver hotel quarantining after testing positive for Covid-19 before the team’s trip back to Buffalo late Sunday night. Hayden remains asymptomatic but must isolate before he can return to the United States. Anders Bjork is the Sabres’ only extra forward with Hayden unavailable.

The Sabres practiced with the same lines and defense pairs as their overtime win over Pittsburgh. It was too soon for coach Don Granato to commit to a starting goaltender, but it’s likely Buffalo will again turn to Craig Anderson, who played for the Capitals last season.

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