Sabres Need to Manage Expectations for Power’s NHL Debut

It has been one crazy year for Owen Power. After being drafted first overall in the 2021 NHL Draft, competing in the Olympics for Team Canada, and leading Michigan to a Frozen Four birth, it’s been quite the whirlwind for the 19-year-old prospect. The latest development in his young career occurred Friday when Power signed his entry level contract with the Buffalo Sabres. With the expectation he will make his NHL debut in Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, what can Sabres fans realistically expect when he steps into the lineup? While we will likely see flashes of the elite defenseman he will become, it is important to temper expectations for the rookie.

Year in Review and Skills

In order to measure expectations for Power’s debut, let’s take a step back and evaluate his year at Michigan as a whole, while also examining some of the skills that made him a number one overall pick. He scored three goals and added 29 assists in his 33 games as a sophomore at Michigan. Comparing his sophomore season to his freshman one, Power matched his goal total, but doubled his first year point production of 16.

Owen Power, Michigan Wolverines
Owen Power Michigan Wolverines (Photo credit to Michigan Photography)

Beyond being a point per game player, he used his tremendous skating ability to control play in the offensive zone and in transition. Power possesses the ability to slow the game down by not panicking, and routinely makes the correct read to help his team exit the defensive zone. The NCAA is a skilled league, and a physically mature league, and Power fit in perfectly. He showed he is not afraid to use his 6-foot-6 frame as a physical tool to consistently separate opposing players from the puck.

What to Expect From Power

All of these traits are going to be crucial for a successful career, and they should translate smoothly to the NHL, but there should still be a cautious optimism around his debut. Not to overstate the obvious, but the NHL is a significantly faster game than the one played at the college level. It will likely take some time for Power to adapt to the elite skill and speed at the NHL level, and there are going to be some expected growing pains while he adjusts to the new challenges against stronger competition.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Some of that tougher competition will come in Power’s very first game when he faces Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs. Toronto boasts one of the more skilled lineups in the NHL, and it is one of the best forechecking teams in the league. The Leafs pose the ability to force a defense into mistakes with their speed and ability to move the puck around in the offensive zone. There will certainly be a learning curve — and some bumps in the road — as Power adjusts to the speed and learns to compete against elite offensive players like Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares.

Related: Matthews’ Season a Reminder of Why Vaive’s Number Should Be Retired

Eventually he will be expected to match up against players like that on a nightly basis, but right now is just about getting his feet wet. If he makes some of the mistakes rookie defensemen are prone to make, there is no reason to panic. Sabres fans will remember Rasmus Dahlin’s defensive struggles as a rookie, and Power is no different. It takes time to get accustomed to the speed at which NHL players can skate and move the puck, and the Sabres remaining games provides an incredible opportunity for Power to do just that.

Beyond the Leafs, the Sabres also face-off against the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins. Both teams possess size and skill, and both are playing strong hockey at this time of the year. Similar to the challenge he will face in his debut, expect Power to show signs of development against these elite teams, but also be prepared for defensive struggles as he gets a feel for what NHL competition will look like next season.

Boston Bruins Bench Celebrates
Boston Bruins bench celebrates (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Throw the point totals out the window, this is a trial period for Power to showcase he belongs. While there may be some struggles associated with him early on, now is the opportunity for him to get those out of his system so he can hit the ground running heading into next season.

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