By LARRY LAGE and JOHN WAWROW
ANN ARBOR (AP) – Owen Power stood in a sea of corn-clad fans pumping pom poms and cheering on the Michigan football team in a victory over Washington in September.
Power is 6-foot-5 and has some notoriety as the No.1 pick in the NHL Draft, but he fitted in perfectly with his comrades among the 108,345 fans under the lights at an electric night at the Big house.
This is exactly what the 18-year-old Canadian wanted.
Power passed up a chance to make millions this season with the Buffalo Sabers, who selected the number one defenseman overall in July. He decided to stay in school and return for his second season with the Wolverines, ranked No.3 in the preseason.
“I just thought there was no need to rush,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The Mississauga, Ont., Native is the first overall No. 1 draft player not to go straight to the NHL since St. Louis selected Erik Johnson in 2006 and went to play in Minnesota for a while. 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 has spent the last year walking around a largely empty and odd campus in Ann Arbor and playing its first season without fans in the stands due to COVID-19 restrictions. Without a doubt, the pandemic played a role in Power’s decision to stay.
“He wants a normal year,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “He came to college for a reason, came to the University of Michigan for a reason: to go to class, to be a student, to hang out with kids, to go to a soccer game on a Saturday, and to enjoy that experience. “
A majority of the 2021 NHL Draft Class opted to spend one more season developing before making the jump to the best hockey league in the world, and many of them are Power teammates. Including Tyler Boucher (Ottawa, No. 10 pick), who has pledged to play at Boston University, five of the top 10 draft picks playing college hockey the season after being picked matches the total of four draft picks. previous combined.
Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill, who has become a recruiter and director of player development, believes the season cut short by the pandemic last year played a role in this anomaly of so many top picks returning to the ‘school.
“I think the disruption from last year’s season is probably coming into play,” Nill said. “If they had played a full season, would have played 50 games and gone to a national championship, played more hockey, developed more, maybe a different story. “
Michigan had to withdraw from the NCAA tournament due to a virus outbreak, but the Wolverines are loaded this season: four of the top five NHL Draft picks and five of the top 24 wear corn and blue this season. season to try to win it all.
The Seattle Kraken expansion 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 No. 24 Mackie Samoskevich.
“You could say they turned down a considerable amount of money and investment,” said Michigan associate head coach Bill Muckalt, who played in the NHL for five seasons after winning two national titles. with the Wolverines. “They always think they can get better and better here, and we feel the same way.”
Michigan has seven first-round picks – the most in NCAA history – and 13 players in the roster had their names called in the NHL Draft.
“Everyone’s expecting Michigan to probably win the national championship,” said Jack Hughes, entering his third season with the Devils. “It’s almost like a Duke or Kansas basketball type thing, having four of the best five kids drafted. It’s unheard of, and I don’t know if it will ever happen again.
In recent practice, Power was on the power play with Beniers, Hughes, Johnson and 2020 first-round pick Brendan Brisson. They made strip to strip passes like they had played together for years and dotted the goalie with shots.
“When we were playing a little scrum, I was like, ‘Wow, it’s really fun playing hockey,’ said Johnson.
The talented Wolverines aren’t the only ones choosing college over professional hockey this season.
Three other first-round picks this year – Matthew Coronato of Harvard, Chaz Lucius of Minnesota and Corson Ceulemans of Wisconsin – have also chosen to stay in college for at least one more season. Jake Sanderson, drafted fifth by Ottawa in 2020, returns to North Dakota for his second season.
Sanderson and Power are the last defensemen high in the draft to stay in college.
Colorado took No.4 Cale Makar in 2017 and he spent two years at UMass. Vancouver selected Quinn Hughes, brother of Jack and Luke, 7th overall in 2018 and returned to Michigan for another season. Columbus took on No.8 Zach Werenski in 2015 and he too came back to play another year for the Wolverines.
“In my college hockey years, I’ve never seen a player regret taking another year,” said Seth Appert, who coaches the Sabers in the AHL. “I’ve seen a lot of players regret leaving earlier because you have to be prepared, and it’s not just as a hockey player.
“Once you get to this level, it’s your job, you’re a professional. And if you are a good choice, there will be cameras in front of you and there will be pressure to play both within your circle and within the organization and the fans and the media.