Power projected to be top pick in NHL Draft

Photo Courtesy of Hockey Canada Owen Power controls the puck for Canada during the 2021 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Latvia.

Opening round gets underway at 6 p.m. Friday, Rounds 2-7 begin Saturday at 9 a.m.

In a year that’s been different from any other in the junior and college hockey world, the top prospect for this weekend’s NHL Draft has been set in stone for quite some time.

Barring something unforeseen, the Buffalo Sabres are widely expected to select Michigan Wolverines blueliner Owen Power with the first overall pick in Friday’s opening round, which will get underway at 6 p.m. and will air nationally on Sportsnet.

“It would be pretty special,” Power said to TSN’s Mark Masters about possibly being the top selection in this year’s draft.

“It’s something every kid grows up dreaming about and just to be in the conversation for that is pretty special.”

After two seasons in the USHL with the Chicago Steel, the 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont. moved up to the NCAA ranks this year and had 16 points in 26 games.

He finished off the campaign by suiting up in 10 games and recording three assists for Canada’s gold medal winning side at the IIHF World Championships in Latvia.

“I think the best way to describe Owen as a player is smooth,” said Prince Albert product and New York Rangers prospect Braden Schneider, who was a teammate of Power’s at the Worlds. “He’s a big guy that skates really well and thinks the game at a different pace.

“You don’t expect a guy his size (6’5” and 214 lbs.) to move the way he does and I know he’s going to have a great NHL career with the ability that he has.”

Power would be just the third NCAA player to be the top pick in the NHL Draft, with the other two being Michigan State Spartans forward Joe Murphy (Detroit Red Wings – 1986) and Boston Terriers netminder Rick DiPietro (New York Islanders – 2000).

The expansion Seattle Kraken hold the second overall pick and are expected to take Wolverines forward Matthew Beniers, who had 24 points in 24 games this season and also played for the United States at the World Juniors and the World Championships.

If Power and Beniers are the top two picks, it would mark the first time that teammates were taken back-to-back to start the draft since 1969, when Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif of the OHA’s Montreal Junior Canadiens were selected by the Montreal Canadiens.

While the pair are considered to be the most likely out of this year’s draft class to turn pro this fall, it’s not clear if they will do so as the Wolverines are the heavy favourites to win the Frozen Four and both players have expressed an interest in returning to Ann Arbor to experience a true college season after their freshman campaigns were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday’s opening round is expected to be a banner one for the Maize and Blue as forward Kent Johnson and incoming blueliner Luke Hughes, who is the younger brother of NHLers Quinn and Jack, are both possible top 10 selections.

In addition to Power and Hughes, Brandt Clarke of the Barrie Colts and Simon Edvinsson of Frolunda are considered to be the best blueliners available.

Forwards Dylan Guenther of the Edmonton Oil Kings, Mason McTavish of the Peterborough Petes and William Eklund of Djurgardens are potential top five selections on Friday, while Swedish netminder Jesper Wallstedt could end up being the first goaltender to be picked in the top ten since Carey Price in 2005.

Guenther is considered to be the best prospect from the WHL in this year’s draft, with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Cole Sillinger, Winnipeg Ice blueliner Carson Lambos, Kamloops Blazers forward Logan Stankoven and Oil Kings netminder Sebastian Cossa also earning first round consideration.

The other six rounds of the draft, which is being held virtually for the second straight year, will get underway at 9 a.m. Saturday.