Prodigious Power dazzling veteran Canadian men's hockey contingent ahead of Olympics
19-year-old blueliner says 'expectation is to win gold' with Team Canada in Beijing
Rookies in elite-level hockey often discover their harshest critics in their own dressing room — perhaps even sitting right next to them on the bench.
But Owen Power need not fear such an initiation. In fact, the 19-year-old defenceman is already dazzling the veterans at a pre-Olympic training camp for the Canadian men's hockey team in Davos, Switzerland.
A first-overall draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Power is arguably the best hockey player on the planet outside the National Hockey League — and his Olympic teammates recognize a budding superstar when they see one.
"I'm very impressed," says defenceman Mark Barberio, who logged parts of eight NHL seasons before joining Kazan Ak-Bars of the Kontinental Hockey League. "He's big man for his age, a big body. It looks like he's already got the NHL size on him. And he's an extremely smooth player, who skates very well and he's very efficient on his edges.
"I'm excited to see him in game action."
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Barberio, 31, is hardly the only one feeling excited. After only a couple of practices, eight-year NHL veteran Jason Demers says Power reminds him of Victor Hedman, the Tampa Bay Lightning superstar who has won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenceman and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
That's quite the comparison for a young man who was murmuring Monday about the difficulty of virtually attending his University of Michigan classes, while in Switzerland, due to the six-hour time difference.
With the NHL not participating in the 2022 Beijing Olympics — due to the rash of game cancellations caused by the COVID-19 virus — the Canadian men's hockey team is composed of players at different stages of their hockey journey. The majority — including Barberio, Demers, and former Montreal Canadiens forward David Desharnais — are on the back end of their careers playing professionally overseas.
At 37, Eric Staal is the granddaddy of the bunch, hoping for one last NHL opportunity after the Olympics.
Power 'could play in NHL right now'
And then there's Power, the six-foot-six, 214-pound blueliner who slows the game down like Alex Pietrangelo and munches minutes like Edmonton Oilers rearguard Darnell Nurse.
"I'm sure he could play in the NHL right now easily and Buffalo would have won another 10 to 15 games," Demers says. "I'm excited to potentially play with him, or just play on the same defensive unit, and try to see if I can lend any kind of advice to him.
"But I mean, he's the first-overall pick for a reason."
Given the popularity of the world junior hockey championships in this country, you can bet many diehard Canadian hockey fans will tune into the tournament to see how Power fares on the Olympic stage.
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Other Canadian youngsters to watch include Mason McTavish, a third overall pick of the Anaheim Ducks, Devon Levi, a highly touted goaltending prospect for the Sabres and Jack McBain, a third-round selection of the Minnesota Wild.
"The expectation is to win gold," Power says. "Every time Canada suits up to play hockey, that's kind of the expectation."
At the 2021 world championship, Power logged 24:13 of ice-time in the gold-medal victory over Finland. He furthered his stellar reputation at the world junior championship by potting three goals and five points before the tournament was halted due to COVID-19 concerns.
Regardless of the outcome in Beijing, Power sees the Olympics as a golden opportunity to improve his game.
"I think it's going to be huge," he said. "You learn so much from being around the older guys who have been playing pro for so long. You're playing against older, stronger guys, so you're definitely going to learn a ton."
Over the course of his NHL career, Barberio played with Hedman in Tampa Bay and Cale Makar with the Avalanche.
"I don't want to put any pressure on him, because comparing him to guys like Victor and Cale, I think it might be unfair at this stage of his career," Barberio said of Power. "But he is going to have an amazing career and I'm excited to see him play.
"And I'm sure all of Canada knows and is going to be excited to watch him in these Games."
Power and Team Canada open the Beijing Games on Feb. 10 against Germany. The Canadians are then scheduled to face the U.S. on Feb. 12 before closing out round-robin play in Group A against China on Feb. 13.