Projected top pick Power leaning toward return to Michigan

One of the biggest questions when selecting a player from the college ranks in the NHL entry draft is whether you will be able to sign them. The draw to play for a top university is legitimate for many prospects, especially if they are going to have to wait several years for a chance at the NHL level anyway. But what about for a player that is supposed to go at the very top of the draft?

Owen Power, the projected first-overall pick in this year’s draft and a sophomore at the University of Michigan, was on NHL Network to discuss his plans for next season:

“I think right now I’m leaning more toward going back to school. It’s something I’d like to do, try and get the true experience of playing college hockey. At the end of the day it obviously depends on what the team wants and what everyone around me thinks is best. I don’t think there is really a bad option, but I would say I’m probably leaning a bit more toward going back to school right now.”

Power, 18, like all of the college freshman that started their NCAA athletic careers this season, has still not really gotten a chance to see what the atmosphere can be like thanks to COVID restrictions. In fact, the Michigan hockey team didn’t even get a chance to play in the NCAA championship tournament because of COVID protocols, removed just before they were set to take on Minnesota-Duluth. While Power had a chance to play at the IIHF World Championship for Canada, taking home the gold medal, he missed out on a lot of what likely drew him to Michigan in the first place.

The Wolverines are also set to be quite the squad next season, with several players expected to go in the top half of the first round and Luke Hughes set to join them as a freshman. Should Power return, he is coming back to a program that will be in contention for the national championship.

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Of course, there is also the draw of the NHL. Should the Buffalo Sabres use the first-overall pick on the 6-foot-5 defenseman, there will almost certainly be an opportunity for him to step directly into their lineup for the 2021-22 season. Not only would that get him on a fast track to a bigger payday after his entry-level contract expires, but it would also give him a chance to test himself against the best players in the world every night. While the talent level in college hockey has improved dramatically over the past few decades, it is still nothing like the skill Power would face as a regular in the Buffalo lineup.

Though these comments may remind Sabres fans of players like Jimmy Vesey and Calvin Petersen, who decided not to sign with them and test the free agent market following their college careers, Power’s situation is much different. Even though he may be leaning to returning for his sophomore year, the chance that a player picked as high as him waits for his draft rights to expire is very low. There’s simply no reason for him to spend all four years at Michigan if he wants to continue his development, so it would likely mean waiting just a single year before he signs his entry-level deal. In fact, once the Wolverines season is complete, he could likely play in a few games at the end of 2021-22 for whichever NHL team drafts him anyway.

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The question for the Sabres now is does that potential wait change his draft stock at all. Buffalo is desperately searching for a way out of the basement, but there’s really no rush beyond the ongoing frustration of the fan base. The team is not close to competing for the Stanley Cup, meaning if they believe Power is the best player in the draft, another year in Michigan shouldn’t stop them from picking him.

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