Owen Power knew the expectations on him this season were lofty. Coming into the season as a potential top pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, the freshman defenseman’s star only shone brighter following a three-point performance in his Michigan debut.
In the nine games that followed, though, Power registered only a single assist. Despite his low offensive output, Power never looked out of place in the college game — he’s a highly-touted prospect for a reason. He was still one of the Wolverines’ best defensemen even as his offensive game lagged a bit behind.
It’s fair to wonder if all of the potential distractions Power faced in the first half of the season ever got in his head. On top of the draft, the controversy over whether or not Power would be attending Canada’s World Juniors camp proved to be a constant talking point.
“I think the decision to have me stay here and play was fine,” Power told reporters on Jan. 11. “I think either way it was a good decision. So I think just being able to stay here and kind of just develop with the team was a good decision.”
Power said all the right things about not attending World Juniors and has said the draft has not been a distraction, but his play in the second half of the season tells a different story. The combination of an extended break, extra practice time and the experience Power has gained is likely behind his improvement, but it’s fair to assume that the lack of World Junior’s chatter has played a role.
“There were a lot of distractions, and we have to make sure that we really put that behind us and the outside noise and just focus in on our team,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We do that (and) I think you’ll see a real good second half.”
While Pearson was talking about the team as a whole, Power has epitomized his sentiment, especially offensively. In the six games since the Wolverines returned from their break, Power has accumulated eight points. While plus/minus doesn’t fully convey a player’s impact, Power is a plus-8 in those six games. In Michigan’s first 10 games, he was a plus-1, which is telling.
The biggest difference for Power lies in getting more shots through. He has put multiple shots on net in six of the Wolverines’ last nine games, after doing so just twice in their first seven.
This change has forced opposing teams to respect his shot even more in the offensive zone, opening up chances for his teammates. And Power has learned how to take advantage of that.
In a Jan. 22 win against Notre Dame, Power showed just how dangerous he can be when teams view him as a shooting threat. With the puck at the point, Power convincingly faked a shot, drawing the attention of multiple Fighting Irish players and leaving senior forward Michael Pastujov open at the right circle. Power dished it off and Pastujov converted.
Power’s evolution into a consistent offensive threat has also paid dividends for Michigan’s power play, with Power’s unit scoring four goals on the man advantage since the break.
“We lean on (the freshmen) a little bit more in the second half because they know the expectations and the standards of our program now and how hard it is in the Big Ten,” Pearson said. “When you first start you have to be careful with them.”
Transitioning to the college game is difficult for any player, even one of Power’s stature. The players are older and more experienced and the games are more physical. Add the potential of being the first overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft and it makes sense that other players have stolen the spotlight in the first half.
But now, with all the possible distractions in the rearview mirror and 16 games under his belt, Power continues to show, game after game, why those expectations were so high in the first place.
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