The Buffalo Sabres selected Owen Power with the first-overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Power was the consensus top-ranked prospect by analysts and rankings around the NHL, touted as the best defenseman and the first d-man to be the no.1-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting since Seth Jones in 2013.
Power adds to an already stacked pipeline of defensive prospects in the Sabres organization, joining Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju, who are already confirming that the Sabres’ blue line will be a strength for years to come. General manager Kevyn Adams is buying into that notion, too.
Sabres Draft Power First-Overall in the 2021 Draft
Power spent the 2020-21 season playing in the NCAA at the University of Michigan and scored three goals and 16 points in 26 games for the Wolverines, turning it up in the second half to emerge as the best defenseman on the roster. He was named to the NCAA (B1G)’s All-Rookie Team and was also named Rookie of the Year by College Hockey News.
Power also represented Canada at the 2021 World Championship, recording three assists in 10 games as his ice time (TOI) increased from under 10 minutes per game to start the tournament to nearly 25 minutes by the end of it. En route to a gold medal, after defeating Finland in the championship game, Power proved why he was ranked so high heading into the draft and that he is ready to play alongside NHLers.
Power is efficient in all three zones and can be both a shut-down defender and run the power play with his crisp passes and hard slap shot. He also plays on the penalty kill, and his 6-foot-5 frame can take away threats by playing physically in the tough areas and in the neutral zone.
Rasmus Ristolainen & Will Borgen Shipped Out
In the days before the NHL draft, the Sabres lost two defensemen: Will Borgen was chosen in the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft and Rasmus Ristolainen was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. Borgen may have been lost for nothing, but Ristolainen drew an impressive haul that included defenseman Robert Hagg, a 2022 second-round pick, and the 14th-overall pick in this year’s draft, which they used to select Swedish forward prospect, Isak Rosen.
Losing Ristolainen and Borgen will put the Sabres’ blue line at a disadvantage but not for long. With Power in the pipeline along with other prospects who have impressed, the Sabres should be able to replace the two defensemen.
Ristolainen was drafted by the Sabres eighth overall in 2013 and spent most of his career playing first-pairing minutes, although he might have been better suited for second-pairing minutes. He should thrive on the Flyers if used properly and isn’t counted on to be the best d-man on their team. However, the fact that the Sabres finally parted ways with him is exciting.
Borgen only played 14 games with the Sabres, and though he seemed to be a suitable partner for Dahlin heading into next season, fans can’t be too upset about losing him instead of other defensive prospects expected to fight for a roster spot next season, Power included.
Power Joins Stacked Defensive Prospect Pipeline
The Sabres had 11 draft picks in the 2021 Draft, and other than Power, Adams chose only one other defenseman: Nikita Novikov, at 188th overall. All the other selections were forwards, but that’s understandable; the Sabres’ pool of defensive prospects is deep and is more promising than it has been in a long time. Some of them have a legitimate chance to be on the NHL roster next season, while others, like Jacob Bryson and Mattias Samuelsson, made their NHL debut last season.
Bryson, selected in the fourth round of the 2017 Draft, played 38 games with the Sabres last season. He scored one goal and eight assists and had a minus-1 rating, which is remarkable considering that the team was consistently outscored. He should stick in the lineup next season and should improve in a full 82-game schedule.
Samuelsson, the Sabres’ second-round choice in the 2018 Draft, also made his way into the lineup last season and scored two assists in 12 games, improving toward the end of the season in a limited role. I could see him being the seventh defenseman heading into next season and will probably bounce between the NHL and the Sabres’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Rochester Americans.
Besides Bryson and Samuelsson, the defense prospects in the Sabres’ system might need another season or two of development in the minors, but they are not far from being NHL-ready. Oskari Laaksonen, the Sabres’ third-round selection in 2017, and Ryan Johnson, the 31st-overall pick in 2019, should develop more in increased roles in the AHL next season and could make the Sabres’ roster in the future.
Dahlin & Jokiharju Will Lead the Team Next Season
Dahlin and Jokiharju will lead the defense core until Power joins the team. It was hard to find many positives from last season, but these two had an impressive second half, and with a full season under new head coach Don Granato, both of them should really shine.
Dahlin played all 56 games last season, scoring five goals and 23 points, a decent offensive output but not close to what we are used to seeing from him. However, his production increased in the second half when he played looser and more confidently under Granato than he did under former head coach Ralph Krueger.
In 46 games last season, Jokiharju had three goals, five assists, and 50 shots on goal, but he constantly created chances for his forwards with his passing ability. Dahlin and Jokiharju will continue to play top-pair minutes and will face the opposition’s top players in all situations. With Power in the mix as soon as the 2022-23 season, the Sabres’ top-three could be one of the best in the NHL.
Sabres Look Poised to Have Top-5 Defense Core in Future
Power is expected to be the perfect defense partner for Dahlin in the near future, but he is expected to play another year of college hockey next season, so Sabres fans will have to wait until he’s ready to make the jump to see how good he is. Until then, Jokiharju will play the shut-down and transition role to Dahlin’s offensively-minded game, and the two complement each other nicely.
With Dahlin, Jokiharju, and Power, the future of the Sabres’ blue line looks bright. Not to mention, they have a pipeline of prospects developing for their chance to make an impact in the NHL. If most of the players mentioned here play to their potential, the organization is in a position to have one of the best defense corps in the NHL, which is a good step toward becoming Cup contenders.
Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15