Why Owen Power has become the clear No. 1 prospect in the 2021 NHL draft

ByEmily Kaplan ESPN logo
Saturday, July 17, 2021

Growing up in Mississauga, Ontario, Owen Power dreamed of playing in the NHL.

"It's all I worked and hoped for," Power said in a phone conversation this week. "To have that day come to reality, that's going to be pretty special."

Power, a 6-foot-6 defenseman, is the favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Buffalo Sabres in the 2021 NHL draft next week -- which should be a big deal.

He's doing a good job of making it sound like it's not.

"Once the draft is over, no one really cares when you went in the draft," Power said. "You have to put in the work to get a spot on the NHL team, then earn the right to be a top player in the NHL."

Sounds like a canned hockey cliché. His friends say it's extremely on brand.

"You see all these lists that come out, he doesn't care about any of that," said University of Michigan teammate Matty Beniers, a good bet to be taken No. 2 overall during the July 23-24 draft. "Like, if he got drafted last in the draft or first in the draft, he'd be so happy for everyone else, I bet he wouldn't even look at where he's going. He's such a nice person, really serious about hockey, but a humble guy. If you just met him for the first time, you would never know that he was that good at hockey."

Power, 18, is definitely good at hockey.

In a defense-heavy draft, which many evaluators have billed as a tough one to judge -- the pandemic forced entire junior leagues to shut down and limited in-person exposure -- Power still rises as a clear No. 1. One scout said that status was cemented at the 2021 IIHF World Championship, where Power -- playing for the senior Canada team -- became one of coach Gerard Gallant's most trusted blueliners. Power averaged at least 24 minutes in all three elimination-round games, as Canada overcame a 0-3 start to win gold.

"It's clear he was adjusting to the game, but also gaining trust from the coaching staff as the tournament went on," said one scout who was in attendance. "If anyone was unsure of him then, they became a convert. He's legit."

Power grew up as the middle of three children. He has an older sister, Emily, who plays lacrosse at the University of Guelph, and a younger brother, Adam, who just finished 10th grade and also plays hockey and lacrosse.

In addition to hockey, Power played basketball and volleyball in high school, but his real love outside of the rink is box lacrosse, which he played until he was 15.

"The one thing most people might not know about me," Power says, before revealing the closest thing to a brag that will ever come out of his mouth, "is that I won three national championships in lacrosse."

Box lacrosse, Power said, helped him understand spacing -- finding ways to get open, finding the open teammate -- which he thinks translates to his play on the blue line. Power won't wow you with his offensive gift, and he's not overly physical. He's just solid, rarely makes a mistake, and sees the game well.

"I think the best part of my game is my hockey sense," Power said. "That's the most fun part, being able to think of the game at a high level."

Power was drafted by the USHL's Chicago Steel in 2015, but the team figured he'd need a season in Canadian juniors before moving over. Power showed up to training camp, and the plans changed.

"His foot speed wasn't where it needed to be, and there were some things he needed to clean up," said Ryan Hardy, then the Steel's general manager. "But he was this 6-foot-4 15-year-old that never turned the puck over, had this incredible feel for the game, a great confidence. And we were like, 'Oh, man, we have to do anything to recruit this kid.'"

Power "scuffled" at first, Hardy said. Then around Thanksgiving or Christmas, he found his stride.

"By the playoffs, he was probably the best defenseman we had," Hardy said. "He was playing 22, 24 minutes a night."

Power said his humility comes from his parents. After every game, the first call he makes is to his dad. After two years in Chicago, Power enrolled at Michigan. It was tough to have his first college experience occur during the pandemic -- which is one of the reasons he's leaning toward returning to the Wolverines for a sophomore season. Most of Power's free time was spent hanging out with teammates at off-campus houses.

"I've only heard stories of what it was like normally," Power said. "It kind of sucks that was my first experience, but overall it's still been unbelievable."

As for what he enjoys outside of hockey? Power said a lot of his teammates play video games, but that's not for him.

"At school, if I was done with homework, I like watching hockey," he said. "I'll sometime read books, but not too often. I really enjoy watching hockey. And when hockey season is over, I like watching golf."

In fact, if he could pick any brand to sign an endorsement with, Power said he'd probably pick a golf company.

As for his favorite hockey players to watch? Victor Hedman, Seth Jones and Roman Josi.

"Really, any of the top D-men in the NHL, I try to study," Power said. "And take parts of their game and bring it to mine."

Those who watch Power say he's mobile, dependable, and does a lot of things you don't expect from a player who is 6-foot-6, 214 pounds. His former GM hates hearing that, though.

"It's been very frustrating, a lot of people talk about his size," Hardy said. "I think a good thing has happened in scouting over the last decade or so, where people are no longer saying, 'OK, that guy is big, he has potential, we'll take him.' People question it now, because a lot of these big guys are busts. So he's probably been unfairly labeled by some people in that way. But his hockey sense, his desire to compete, and skill level is really incredible for being that young and that big."

Hardy says there's more that sets Power apart.

"What makes him special is, he's very, very humble, but he's very, very driven," Hardy said. "He's coachable. He always wants more information. He never ever thinks he's above anything. He just wants more and more and more so he can study and become better, and become great. When you have that mindset with that frame? This is the Owen Power draft. I don't think a lot of people know how good he is."

That might include Power himself.