Madeline Hinkley/Daily. Buy this photo.

STATE COLLEGE — When defenseman Owen Power announced his decision to return to Michigan for his sophomore season, there was an uproar from the Wolverine faithful. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft very well could have played for the Buffalo Sabres in his rookie year. Instead, he opted to come back. 

12 games into the season, his decision has already paid massive dividends for the No. 2 Michigan hockey team.

Thursday night, Power was everywhere. He recorded three assists, had a plus-minus of positive two and anchored the Wolverine defense. Friday, he was even more dominant in the 6-2 win. The super sophomore not only recorded a goal and two assists, but he was a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end. Whether it was his body positioning, active stick or calm puck handling, Power was excellent on almost every shift.

“He’s okay,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson joked. “Any superlative you want to use, there’s a reason why he’s the No. 1 draft pick. He’s not only a great player, but he’s humble, a great teammate.”

The first forward line consisted of sophomores Matty Beniers, Kent Johnson and Brendan Brisson. When they shared the ice with Power, the Wolverines completely overwhelmed Penn State. That trio is intimidating by themselves, but with Power patrolling the blue line and creating chances for them, they were nearly unstoppable. During an early third period shift, they added on another goal. Power scored after finding a loose puck in front of the net, a testament to his ability to do the dirty work.

“I thought he played great,” freshman defenseman Luke Hughes said. “He’s got that size and that skating ability and that hockey sense all at the same time. I think he really showed that tonight.”

Pearson likes to roll with seven blueliners, which provides him with a security blanket, typically in the form of junior defenseman Jay Keranen. Keranen didn’t play and early in the first period, junior defenseman Keaton Pehrson was charged with a game misconduct for illegal contact to the head. 

Playing with just five defensemen on Friday, Pearson was forced to rely upon Power and the rest of the d-core to play extra minutes.

“You’re gonna get a lot more ice time… there might be some guys who don’t usually play with other players,” Pearson said. “Sometimes you get your better players on the ice a lot more. You get Hughes on the ice, you get Power on the ice and they thrive.”

The Nittany Lions had an unbelievable early opportunity to pour in some goals while Pehrson served a major penalty. But, Power and company made sure that wasn’t an issue. The penalty killers were fantastic and they made life miserable for Penn State, rarely allowing them to get set up in the offensive zone. If Power continues to play like this, opponents will have a tough time generating special teams looks.

“He’s a tremendous talent,” Pearson said. “For a guy his size who can skate like he can, his deception, his poise, his patience.”

At the end of the second period, Power continued his already stellar performance. He used all of his 6-foot-6 frame to shield a Penn State defender and played a nice pass to sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau, who rifled the shot past the goaltender. Power makes the spectacular seem ordinary, calmly possessing the puck and controlling the tempo of the game. When he wants to jump in on the attack, the Wolverines are lethal. When he wants to stay home, Michigan is almost impenetrable. 

When Pearson talked with Terry Pegula this weekend, namesake of Pegula Ice Arena and owner of the Buffalo Sabres, about his top draft pick. Pearson kept the message simple.

“He’s a really good hockey player.”