For more than two months, we have known which eight teams will advance to the Eastern Conference playoffs, reinforcing the monotonous quality that late matches in the regular season often have. With nothing to play for but pride, the Buffalo Sabers had other ideas, and debuted in 2021 as first-choice Owen Power in front of the crowd in his hometown against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday.
Standing at six-foot-six with a long walk and a booming shot, Power is an unmistakable presence on the ice and he certainly did not look out of place during his first NHL game. The last time we caught up with Power, he was well on his way to MVP honors at the World Juniors – perhaps only pushed by Canadian teammate and 2023 first overall favorite Connor Bedard – before the tournament was canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests from several teams .
It was a busy winter for Power in any case when he joined Canada for the Olympics, where he recorded a point in five matches and held out in all situations against professional men’s players.
Power returned to the University of Michigan, scoring 32 points in 33 games, playing alongside arguably the most stacked NCAA team of the modern era, a team that also boasted 2021 No. 2 overall pick Matthew Beniers – who made his own NHL debut on Tuesday – 2021 No. 4 overall pick Luke Hughes and 2021 No. 5 overall pick Kent Johnson, who signed his entry-level deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 8th.
Michigan, despite its seven NHL first-round picks, was eliminated by Denver in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament, freeing Power and his NHL-bound teammates to join the professional ranks immediately.
So how did Power fare against his childhood Toronto Maple Leafs? Honestly, not bad! During Power’s first inning of the game, Auston Matthews made a rare unforced error that put the puck over the boards for a delay in the game’s penalty. Buffalo was unable to capitalize, and although Power did not affect possession in a meaningful way for the Sabers, he logged over 19 minutes in a comfortable 5-2 victory.
Power’s best play – or at least his most memorable – took place in the first period, where he broke a first-class 2-on-1 chance. Maple Leafs defender Mark Giordano cut the ice open with Matthews crashing the net and trying to add to his league-leading goal, but Power displayed excellent control over the distance, not convincing and hitting the ball off. Giordano may have telegraphed it by not seeing by Matthews, but better, more experienced defenders have withered under the pressure.
Power’s ability to play high volume minutes instantly without hurting the Sabers may be the main observation from Tuesday’s game. It’s not a sexy choice, but as a 19-year-old against a high-octane Maple Leafs team determined to avoid another collapse in the first round, avoid big mistakes and make the solid but unspectacular game, can be considered a victory .
Sabers head coach Don Granato warned reporters that Power should not be expected to be the lifeline for the franchise, and we would do well to remember that young defenders have a much longer development curve than strikers.
It was only four years ago that Power played the lead role for the Greater Toronto Hockey League’s Mississauga representatives, and it was certainly not lost on the child how special it was to play in front of his family. And we’re also grateful for Power: it would just be another game 73 (or game 75 in Buffalo’s case) while we all wait for the playoffs to begin. But for one night, Power’s debut broke out in the dog days of the hockey calendar.
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