×

Top NHL pick decides to stay with Michigan Wolverines

By LARRY LAGE

and JOHN WAWROW

AP Hockey Writers

ANN ARBOR– Owen Power stood in a sea of maize-clad fans pumping pompoms and cheering on Michigan’s football team in a win over Washington this fall.

Power is 6-foot-5 and has some notoriety as the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft, but he blended right in with his fellow students among the 108,345 fans under the lights on an electric night at the Big House.

That’s just the way the 18-year-old Canadian wanted it.

Power passed on a chance to make millions this season with the Buffalo Sabres, who selected the defenseman No. 1 overall in July. He decided to stay in school and return for his sophomore season with the Wolverines, ranked No. 3 in the preseason.

“I just thought there’s no need to rush into it,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The Mississauga, Ontario, native is the first player drafted No. 1 overall not to go straight to the NHL since St. Louis selected Erik Johnson in 2006 and he went to play at Minnesota for a season. He is only the fourth NCAA player to be drafted No. 1 overall, joining Michigan State’s Joe Murphy (1986), Boston University’s Rick DiPietro (2000) and Johnson.

Power spent last year walking around a largely empty and eerie campus in Ann Arbor and played his freshman season without fans in the stands because of COVID-19 restrictions. Without a doubt, the pandemic played a part in Power’s decision to stay.

“He wants a normal year,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson, who played at and previously coached at Michigan Tech. “He came to college for a reason, came to the University of Michigan for a reason: To go to class, to be a college student, to hang out with kids, to go to a football game on a Saturday and enjoy that experience.”

A majority of the 2021 NHL draft class elected to spend one more season developing before making the jump to the world’s top hockey league, and many of them are Power’s teammates. Including Tyler Boucher (Ottawa, No. 10 pick), who’s committed to play at Boston University, five of the top 10 draft choices playing college hockey the season after they were chosen matches the total for the previous four drafts combined.

Michigan had to withdraw from the NCAA Tournament because of a virus outbreak, but the Wolverines are loaded this season: Four of the top five NHL draft picks and five of the top 24 are wearing maize and blue this season to take a shot at winning it all.

The expansion Seattle Kraken took Matt Beniers No. 2 overall; New Jersey drafted Luke Hughes two picks later to eventually pair him with his brother, Jack, drafted first overall in 2019; Columbus took Kent Johnson No. 5 overall; and Florida selected Mackie Samoskevich No. 24.