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Likely top pick could return to UM after NHL draft

Defenseman Owen Power, the NHL’s top-ranked draft prospect, is leaning toward staying in school to play his sophomore season at Michigan next year rather than turn pro.

That doesn’t mean he won’t soon play for the club that selects him, it’s just a different route to the NHL, one that has seen some success of late.

“I wouldn’t say I’m committed to going back to school. I mean, I’m probably leaning towards it right now.” Power said during a videoconference call featuring the top-ranked draft prospects on Tuesday.

Power added he won’t make a decision until after the draft, by noting he wants to first consult with the team that selects him.

The 6-foot-6, 213-pound player from Mississauga, Ontario, is the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau’s top-ranked North American skater entering the two-day draft, which opens on July 23 and will be held remotely for a second straight year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bureau’s scouting report credits Power for being intuitive, and for his fluid and agile skating ability that allows him to transition quickly.

“Power is an excellent package of NHL size, skating and attributes, which he utilizes effectively in all situations,” the report reads. “He plays a mature game for his age and is at the top of this draft class.”

Returning to school to fine-tune some skills for the NHL level has certainly paid off for Cole Caufield, the rookie forward for the Montreal Canadiens who has quickly made a name for himself this postseason. Caufield, drafted No. 15 overall in 2019, played for the Wisconsin Badgers this season before joining the Canadiens in time for their run to the Stanley Cup Final. In Game 4 Monday night, he had two assists, as Montreal defeated Tampa Bay in overtime to stay alive in the series.

Power brings a different skill set to the table than Caufield, but he should be able to help the Buffalo Sabres, who have the first pick for the second time in four years. After Buffalo’s selection, the NHL’s 32nd franchise, the expansion Seattle Kraken, will choose at No. 2.

Power said he is scheduled to meet with the Sabres on Thursday, and he has already met with the Kraken.

Two of Power’s Wolverines teammates are included in the top six of the North American rankings, with center Kent Johnson listed third and center Matthew Beniers sixth.

Defenseman Luke Hughes, who is committed to playing at Michigan next year, is ranked fourth. Hughes is the younger brother of New Jersey forward Jack Hughes, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, and Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes, the seventh overall pick in 2018.

Canadian junior center Mason McTavish, who played in Switzerland last year, is the second-ranked North American skater.

Central Scouting’s top European prospect is Swedish center William Eklund.

Power was a Big Ten all-rookie team selection after scoring three goals and adding 13 assists for 16 points in 26 games. Michigan’s season, however, ended abruptly when the No. 2-seeded Wolverines were removed from the NCAA Tournament following positive COVID-19 test results.

The 18-year-old Power’s season continued after he was selected to represent eventual champion Canada at the world championships in Latvia in May and June. Power’s role increased through the tournament, and he finished with three assists in 10 games.

One reason he would prefer to return to Michigan is the opportunity to enjoy a college year without COVID-19 limitations — including playing in front of fans at Yost Arena.

“I think it would be pretty special. Just actually going to class and not do it online,” Power said. “Just being able to do stuff other than go to the rink and home, I think would be something that I would like to do.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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