Sabres’ Best Defensive Partner for Owen Power

Now that he has spent a few games in the NHL, Owen Power has shown the tip of the iceberg as far as his skillset goes. With that in mind, his playstyle is still rough around the edges, and he could use some structure to his gameplay. Head coach Don Granato has put Power in almost every situation so far to presumably test where he may fit into the roster’s grand scheme, and it is fairly easy to notice what he needs in his defensive partner.

So far, Power has gone up against only a couple of tough opponents in the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues. While he had some good things happen for him in getting his first NHL point, there were other instances where his rookie status was being exploited by the opposition, most notably by a red-hot Vladimir Tarasenko, as shown here.

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On this particular shift, Power was playing alongside Sabres star defender Rasmus Dahlin. Dahlin is known for stepping up into plays, and Power paid the price for it a bit here. Both players are offensively inclined and look to create chances with their skating abilities and soft hands. With them being such similar players, putting them together does not seem like the best fit for Power at this time. He needs someone with a more defensive mind to play alongside him so he has the freedom to create offensive chances as he can.

Granato’s Current Choice

From the first game he dressed for, Power was placed alongside defenseman Henri Jokiharju. When healthy this season, Jokiharju has mainly played with Dahlin and acted as the steady two-way defensive leaning partner that he needed. Granato seems to hope that Jokiharju and Power can find similar chemistry as Dahlin solidifies himself as the top Sabres defenseman. The results so far have been mixed on this combination’s front. Nothing spectacular offensively has happened yet, but that isn’t for a lack of trying on Power’s part.

Jokiharju has the tools to be a solid partner as a right-handed player and someone who can log a lot of minutes on the blue line. Where the issue lies in this defensive pairing is the size differential and the offensive upside. Power stands at a towering 6-foot-6, while Jokiharju stands at a mere 6-foot. Power will continue to jump up into rushes to make scoring chances happen, leaning on Jokiharju to be the setup man from the back end. Power should take a page from Dahlin’s book and learn to be the one that carries the play from the back end, but as it stands now, he acts more like a fourth forward on the rush.

These two will most likely see a good portion of their time together for the remainder of this season, but come next year, there is a better option for Power to play with consistently.

The Sabres’ Right Pairing

Power can be described as a two-way defender with an inclination to the offensive side. So far, he hasn’t found much of a finishing touch in his first few games, but the chances are there. His defensive play has had a number of good moments, like when he broke up a two-on-one rush involving Auston Matthews, but there have also been a number of moments where he gets caught out of position. This has left him with a plus-1 rating and only two points so far in five games. While those numbers are a very small sample size, there is another Sabres defender that plays well in all situations and has an inclination toward the defensive and physical side of the game.

Mattias Samuelsson Buffalo Sabres
Mattias Samuelsson, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Mattias Samuelsson has been a rock for the Sabres’ blue line since he was called up earlier this year. He started the season in Rochester as he was injured before training camp began. The safe approach seems to have paid off, as Granato seems to have a rock-steady defender he can count on at any time.

Samuelsson is a former 2018 second-round pick and seems to have developed into everything that the Sabres previously wanted Rasmus Ristolainen to be. He constantly is making breakout plays, using his body to get the right positioning, and stopping some of the top NHL talent from doing what they do best. At a stunning 6-foot-4, he stands almost eye-to-eye with Power, so the size alone would make for an excellent pairing. Samuelsson is left-handed, so putting him on the left side would allow him to retain his spot while Power is left in a one-timer position more often.

Future Roles

Samuelsson has yet to score a goal in the NHL yet, but he does have 10 assists in 39 games. His offensive numbers are nothing amazing, but they would increase slightly by playing with the likes of Power. If these two could develop chemistry with one another, the Sabres could be looking at a very large and very steady top defensive pairing to deploy on a regular basis.

Rasmus Dahlin Buffalo Sabres
Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Dahlin holds the spot as the Sabres’ number one defender, and with his current projection, his offensive numbers will only continue to climb next season. Similar to how Victor Hedman gets used in Tampa Bay, Dahlin will play with any other defenseman that complements his style and allows him to make moves and plays as he does so well. This will leave his ice time a little more flexible, and with how rock solid the Power-Samuelsson pairing could be, the Sabres would be looking at the potential of having two defensive lines that could play decreased minutes for optimal efficiency and energy. That is something that would only benefit the team in the long run.

Power is set to become a powerhouse, both offensively and defensively. He has never been a huge goal scorer, but at his peak, it would not be out of the question for him to finish a prime season with 10 goals and 55-60 points. Next season he will have been with the team for a full training camp and preseason. Having that will get him in the right mindset and behavioral pattern to really show off. This year is about finding out what he can do and where he may fit into the roster scheme. Right now, the best place for him is next to Samuelsson, developing communication and chemistry for the long road ahead.

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