For the better part of two months, we’ve known which eight teams will be advancing to the Eastern Conference playoffs, compounding the monotonous quality that late regular-season games often hold. With nothing to play for but pride, the Buffalo Sabers had other ideas, debuting 2021 first-overall pick Owen Power in front of his hometown crowd versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday.
Standing at six-foot-six with a long gait and a booming shot, Power is an unmistakable presence on the ice and he certainly didn’t look out of place during his first NHL game. The last time we caught up with Power, he was well on his way to MVP honors at the World Juniors – perhaps pushed only by Canadian teammate and 2023 first-overall favorite Connor Bedard – before the tournament was canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests from several teams.
It was a busy winter for Power in any circumstances as he joined Canada for the Olympics, where he registered one point in five games, holding his own in all situations against men’s professional players.
Power returned to the University of Michigan, recording 32 points in 33 games, playing alongside arguably the most stacked NCAA team of the modern era, a team that also boasted 2021 No. 2 overall pick Matthew Beniers – who made his own NHL debut on Tuesday – 2021 No. 4 overall pick Luke Hughes and 2021 No. 5 overall selection Kent Johnson, who signed his entry-level deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 8.
Michigan, despite its seven NHL first-round picks, were eliminated by Denver in the NCAA tournament semifinals, freeing Power and his NHL-bound teammates to join the professional ranks immediately.
So, how did Power fare against his boyhood Toronto Maple Leafs? Honestly, not bad! During Power’s first shift of the game, Auston Matthews created a rare unforced error, roofing the puck over the boards for a delay of game penalty. Buffalo wasn’t able to capitalize and though Power didn’t affect possession in a meaningful way for the Sabers, he logged over 19 minutes in a comfortable 5-2 win.
Power’s best play – or at least his most memorable – occurred in the first period, where he broke up a premium 2-on-1 chance. Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Giordano cut up the ice with Matthews crashing the net, looking to add to his league-leading goal total, but Power displayed excellent gap control, didn’t overcommit and picked off the pass. Jordan may have telegraphed it by not looking off Matthews, but better, more experienced defenders have wilted under the pressure.
Power’s ability to play high-volume minutes immediately without being detrimental to the Sabers may be the main observation from Tuesday’s game. It’s not a sexy take but at 19 years old, against a high-octane Maple Leafs team that is hell-bent on avoiding another first-round collapse, avoiding major mistakes and making the solid but unspectacular play can be considered a win.
Sabers head coach Don Granato warned reporters that Power shouldn’t be expected to be the savior of the franchise and we’d be wise to remember that young defensemen have a much longer developmental curve than forwards.
It was just four years ago that Power was starring for the Greater Toronto Hockey League’s Mississauga Reps and it certainly wasn’t lost on the kid how special it was to play in front of his family. And we’re thankful for Power, too: it would just be another Game 73 (or Game 75 in Buffalo’s case) while we all wait for the playoffs to begin. But for one night, Power’s debut broke up the dog days of the hockey calendar.
More from Yahoo Sports