A year ago, defenseman Owen Power was coping with the abrupt end of another strong Chicago Steel season and scrambling to stay in shape during the height of the pandemic.
‘‘I’ve just been trying to keep busy outside, whether it’s putting on the rollerblades, going for a skate, or playing volleyball or basketball with my siblings,’’ he told the Sun-Times in April 2020. ‘‘Anything, really. Just trying to stay active.’’
He evidently made it through the shutdown without losing his groove.
On Friday, the Sabres chose Power — a Toronto-area native who spent two seasons with the Steel before starring at Michigan in 2020-21 — with the first overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
“It’s pretty special,” Power told ESPN. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about my whole life. I don’t know if my younger self would’ve really believed it.”
It was a banner day for Michigan’s hockey program, with current or future Wolverines representing four of the top five picks. Forward Matthew Beniers went second to the Kraken, defensive recruit Luke Hughes went fourth to the Devils and forward Kent Johnson went fifth to the Blue Jackets.
Forward Mason McTavish, a Canadian juniors product, went third to the Ducks.
The Steel, the Geneva-based team that has become a powerhouse of U.S. junior hockey during the last decade, are also on track for another impressive draft weekend. Matthew Coronato, one of seven Steel alumni projected to be picked this year, went 13th to the Flames.
Top goalies Sebastian Cossa and Jesper Wallstedt, rumored to be on the Hawks’ radar before they traded the 12th pick, eventually landed with the Red Wings at 15th and Wild at 20th, respectively.
Power, meanwhile, emerged late in the process as the consensus first overall pick. He’ll be challenged to break the trend of recent No. 1 selections enduring slow starts to their NHL careers. The last four — Alexis Lafreniere (2020 to the Rangers), Jack Hughes (2019 to the Devils), Rasmus Dahlin (2018 to the Sabres) and Nico Hischier (2017 to the Devils) — averaged only 21.5 points last season.
Hawks hold six Saturday picks
After trading down to 32nd in Friday’s first round, the Blackhawks enter Saturday’s second round with six more selections to make.
They own one second-round pick (62nd), two fourth-round picks (105th and 108th), one sixth-round pick (172nd) and two seventh-round picks (204th and 216th).
Toews, Nylander updates
Alex Nylander — who missed all of last season recovering from knee surgery — is 100% healthy and will be ready for training camp in September, general manager Stan Bowman said Thursday.
But Jonathan Toews, despite breaking his silence and resuming daily on-ice workouts this summer, is less certain for camp.
‘‘None of us has a crystal ball to know how he’ll feel in September,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘We’ll just take that as it comes, though. We don’t have to put any pressure on him being ready for a certain date.’’