TORONTO – Owen Power was pushed into the middle of the circle by Vinnie Hinostroza as the Buffalo Sabers gathered for a stretch around center ice at the end of practice on Monday.
His new teammates repeatedly banged their sticks on the ice and cheered to welcome the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, who will make his NHL debut at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday (7 pm ET; TSN4, MSG-B, ESPN +, NHL Live).
“Everyone’s been so welcoming and so nice to me,” the 19-year-old defenseman said. “They’re always trying to include me in everything. I think they’ve done a great job making it easy for me to kind of come in and adjust.”
Buffalo signed Power to a three-year, entry-level contract on Friday after his season with the University of Michigan ended in a 3-2 overtime loss to the University of Denver in the NCAA Frozen Four.
He won’t have to look far to find someone who can help him navigate the pressure and expectations that come with being selected first overall.
“To have somebody that was selected No. 1 overall in Rasmus Dahlin and the unrealistic expectations heaped on a guy D ‘Dahls’ has done an amazing job with that, “Sabers coach Don Granato said.” We have lots of guys who are excited that Owen is here, but I think Dahls has gained a lot of experience that he’s excited to share. Dahls is a guy that cares about his teammates and team. He is absolutely a team-first guy.
“Rasmus Dahlin is amazing, the team-first attitude he has. It’s just an instinctive attitude. He has been talking about Owen and his arrival for some time before this week. Excited to meet Owen, to be around Owen, and you can see that. “
The Sabers selected Dahlin with No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. In his rookie season in 2018-19, he had 44 points (nine goals, 35 assists) in 82 games, the second-most in NHL history for an 18-year-old defenseman behind Phil Housley (66 points in 1982-83) , who was Dahlin’s coach in Buffalo that season.
“He’s someone who has been through kind of the same experience, so I think he’s someone I could really lean on,” Power said. “Just try and ask him any question I can and just learn from him.”
Dahlin, who turns 22 on Wednesday, is looking forward to sharing what he’s learned in his four NHL seasons.
“I’m here for him,” Dahlin said. “He’s a young kid, he’s here to learn. It takes time, so that’s going to be my advice to him, it takes time. Just let him be who he is and let him develop. So no rush.… Just be patient and you will eventually develop as the player you will be. He’s a super-skilled and great defenseman, so I’m not worried at all. “
Maple Leafs captain John Tavares also knows what awaits Power, having been selected No. 1 by the New York Islanders in the 2009 NHL Draft.
“Obviously, [expectations] are there, you’re aware of that but I think you’re living out a dream, “Tavares said.” Playing in the NHL and getting that opportunity, I think you’re just so excited to experience that, so much hard work goes into that. … You just want to go out there and enjoy it and obviously compete. “
Power participated in his first full practice with the Sabers on Monday after taking the ice for an optional morning skate on Sunday in Tampa Bay. He was paired with Henri Jokiharju.
“Just excited,” Power said of Jokiharju. “I’ve seen him play. When I was in Chicago (in the USHL) he was in Chicago (with the Blackhawks), so I watched quite a bit.”
Granato likes the fit Jokiharju can provide with Power to keep things calm.
“It’s nice when you have two young guys like Jokiharju and Dahlin and they already feel like big brothers,” Granato said. ‘Owen’s not here and they’re already talking about’ When Owen gets here, I want to play with him! And I want to play with him! ‘ Fe It feels right right now, and I think the most important thing for us is to support Owen as best as we can as a team. We have 18 guys on the ice that know our system up and down the rink. We just have to allow Owen to play and allow him to adapt and acclimate to the NHL. I think we have many guys that will help in that initiative. “
Power is from the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, so the Sabers practice Monday was not his first time in the Maple Leafs’ facility.
“I grew up in this building,” Power said. “Think I think anyone’s NHL debut is a really special moment but to be able to have it in my hometown, with all my family here, I think it makes it that much better.”