The first-overall pick in this year’s draft will not sign with the Buffalo Sabres just yet. Owen Power has made his decision and will return to the University of Michigan for the 2021-22 season, according to Lance Lysowski of the Buffalo News. This does not mean that Power is refusing to sign with the Sabres or that the team is at any risk of losing his draft rights. Instead, it is just a player that missed out on the full college hockey experience in a COVID-restricted 2020-21, and will return to school to take a shot at a national championship with a loaded Wolverines squad.
There’s no rush for Power to make his NHL debut, especially since the Sabres are going through another rebuild at the moment. Sam Reinhart, Linus Ullmark and Rasmus Ristolainen have all found new homes, while Jack Eichel’s future with the team is still uncertain. If Power signed right away, the first season of his three-year entry-level deal would be burned on a team that has little hope of making the playoffs–and in truth is hoping for another high pick in the 2022 draft. It’s actually probably better for the Sabres that he’s going back to school, as long as Power doesn’t suffer a career-altering injury or something else that will affect his long-term outlook.
The 6’6″ defenseman was a monster for Michigan as a freshman, scoring 16 points in 26 games and getting better every time he touched the ice. He showed that aptitude for growth again at the IIHF World Championship when playing for Team Canada, starting the tournament as an extra defenseman and finishing it on the top pairing. There’s very little Power can’t do on a hockey rink, as he floats around the ice using long, efficient strides to close off gaps or jump into the rush. While he may not have the offensive upside of players like Cale Makar or even maybe future teammate Rasmus Dahlin, he should be a lock to play big minutes in the NHL when he finally arrives.
With three of the top five picks this year already playing for Michigan, and a fourth in Luke Hughes set to join them, the Wolverines will be one of the most dynamic programs to watch in all of college hockey. Power, Hughes, Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson—should they all decide to return instead of signing in the NHL—form the backbone of a deep lineup that could probably rival some professional teams. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that they go all the way to a title as there are other great programs as well, but there’s little doubt that Power will be playing more meaningful hockey (at least in terms of title contention) by going back to Michigan this season.
It doesn’t mean he won’t see some time in a Sabres uniform though. Depending on how their season goes, the Wolverines could be finished in time for those top names to sign an NHL deal and get playing time down the stretch. Even if that doesn’t happen, it’s hard to see Power returning for 2022-23 (though obviously not impossible), when a full-time NHL role will be waiting for him.