Power, projected No. 1 pick in 2021 Draft, going to be superstar in NHL

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Owen Power may have cemented his status as not only the best defenseman, but the best player, in the 2021 NHL Draft with his performance as the only draft-eligible player for Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Championship in Riga, Latvia.

Power (6-foot-6, 213 pounds), who is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, had three assists, 17 shots on goal and a plus-1 rating while averaging 20:07 of ice time in 10 games to help Canada finish first for the first time since 2016.

“The coaches just told me from the outset to just go out there and play your game, don’t change the way you play because you’re here for a reason, and that’s what I did,” Power said. “I came in not really knowing how much I would play, but I think I just got my opportunity and kind of ran with it.

“I don’t think I surprised myself because I had confidence coming in.”

The 18-year-old’s best performance at the tournament came in a 2-1 overtime victory against Russia in the quarterfinals on June 3, when he had two shots on goal in 24:02 of ice time and was named player of the game.

In a 3-2 overtime win against Finland in the championship three days later, Power played 24:17, including a team-high 10:31 in the third period.

“He’s so young, but he plays like a 10-year veteran in the NHL,” Canada goalie Darcy Kuemper said. “He had so much poise out there, reads the play so well and it was a lot of fun to be out there with him. It’s going to be fun watching him develop and just take his game to another level.”

Said Canada captain Adam Henrique, “You can see his maturity. He’s humble and pretty quiet and just kind of allowed his game to come out, and it was fun to watch. … He’s certainly going to be a great player for years to come.”

The chance to play at the World Championship capped a season that ended earlier than expected for Power.

As a freshman at the University of Michigan, he scored 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) and had a plus-18 rating in 26 games to help the Wolverines receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but they were unable to participate because of COVID-19 protocols.

“He didn’t seem to miss a beat,” said Tod Button, Calgary Flames director of amateur scouting. “I know it’s been a while since his last game at Michigan (March 15), and Canada’s coaching staff was good about easing him in, minutes wise, but he took every challenge handed to him and earned a lot more ice time. He was very impressive … but it’s not surprising.

“It is unusual for a draft-eligible defenseman to be doing so well at this tournament, but more so in that he’s dealing with a different ice surface and unfamiliar opponents and teammates. So everything is new, and it didn’t faze him one bit.”

Michigan coach Mel Pearson also wasn’t surprised.

“I saw what he could do on a daily basis for 200 days this year,” Pearson said. “I’m really happy for him, proud of him. He liked the challenge. He’s a student of the game, works hard, and he’ll do what it takes to try to be the best player he can for his team and for himself. I saw the same guy I watched play at Michigan. Maybe he didn’t jump in as often, but he did a nice job regardless who he played with.”

Power said the biggest adjustment at the World Championship was getting acclimated to the Olympic-sized ice surface.

“It’s just a little more skating,” he said. “Sometimes I think defending is probably the biggest difference on the big ice surface. It’s wider, so you’ve got more space to defend.”

The Buffalo Sabres, who were awarded the No. 1 pick of the 2021 draft by winning the NHL Draft Lottery on June 2, are expected to select Power. He was predicted to go No. 1 in NHL.com’s first mock draft. The first round of the draft will be held July 23 and rounds 2-7 will be July 24.

The last draft-eligible player to compete at the World Championship and go No. 1 in the NHL Draft was forward Jack Hughes, who played for the United States before being selected by the New Jersey Devils in the 2019 NHL Draft.

“[Power] is going to be a superstar hockey player,” Canada coach Gerard Gallant said. “We all know he’s got the talent and skill, but to see him do what he did at this level of hockey, as an 18-year-old … he’s obviously going to be drafted early in the first round. He’s going to be outstanding.”

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