If there was any doubt as to whether Owen Power is ready to play against pro players, that’s all gone now.
The projected No. 1 pick this July was one of a handful of draft eligibles taking part in the World Championship in Riga. Canada was able to win gold for the third time since 2015, and it had to do so after barely squeaking into the quarter-finals following a terrible 0-3 start.
But once Power got comfortable, things started to get better for Canada. He made a few early mistakes against Latvia and USA, playing just under eight minutes against Latvia and 14:32 against USA. You could tell Power was struggling to play his best hockey, but coach Gerard Gallant didn’t sit him. He knew his young star needed a bit of a talking to and would figure it out on his own.
And once he did, the rest of the tournament took notice. Power saw his ice time jump to 24:02 against Russia and 27:51 in the semifinal against the Americans. Only defenseman Troy Stecher played more in those games. In the final, Power skated in 24:17 to help Canada win gold.
The biggest sign of approval was in that game against the Americans. Power skated in 17:17 in the opening 40 minutes but played in over half of the third period – including late in a shutdown situation – to help Canada win. Full credit to Gallant’s management of Power: he didn’t overwork him early but gave him enough chances to get used to playing against men for the first time.
“He’s calm with the puck for an 18-year-old,” Gallant said. “He made the right decisions 95 percent of the time. He’s a total package. He played big minutes so when an 18-year-old kid can come in and do that, you know he’s going to be a great player in the NHL for a long time.”
At 6-foot-5 and 214 pounds, Power has more than the ideal size needed to be a top defenseman in the NHL. You hear it all the time: you can’t teach size, but you can definitely teach mobility, and Power thrives in that way. He moves with the speed of a much smaller blueliner and can back to break up plays in an impressive manner, something that was especially clear against the United States and Russia. Even with the bigger ice, something Power was not used to, he didn’t seem bothered by the extra room and found ways to use it to his advantage.
Power nearly set up the go-ahead goal in the second period in the final against Finland. He made a great breakout pass from his own zone to start the play but ended up putting the play offside. It was a mistake that you could tell he realized nearly right away, but he bounced back to finish the period with a solid shift to keep the puck away from goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
And that’s something he does well: after making a mistake on one shift, he’ll react calmly and play his best shift of the game his next chance on the ice. It’s something he did well in the USHL with Chicago and with Michigan in the NCAA. Power isn’t afraid to make mistakes because he uses them as learning experiences to make a better play on the next shift. Call it motivation, call it the mental game, but it works.
“It’s certainly fun to play with a young kid and such a good talent,” Canadian captain Adam Henrique said. “It’s exciting to look back at his teacher, I feel like the old guy all of a sudden.
“He’s such a good kid, he’s humble and pretty quiet and just kind of allows his game to come out.”
Assuming the Buffalo Sabres do select him first overall (Henrique joked that he thinks Power will go No. 3, where his Ducks pick), Power has proven he can handle playing against men right away. Whether or not that’s the route the two sides decide to do is unclear – Power might benefit from another year of college, going for an NCAA title, instead of playing on a team that’s still in a rebuild.
But at the very least, the Sabres have to be excited with how Power responded to a slow start in this tournament to become a leader on a team that needed one on the blueline. If that’s a sign of things come, Sabres fans have something to look forward to in a time where that’s a rarity in Western New York.