TORONTO — Nobody understands the high expectations and the pressure that come with them that Buffalo Sabers rookie Owen Power has to deal with better than Rasmus Dahlin.
Dahlin, who was also drafted first overall, has a unique insight into the ups and downs and Power, 19, will endure as a young NHL defenseman.
“He’s a little boy, he’s here to learn,” Dahlin said of Power, who will make his NHL debut against the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday. “It takes time, so that’s my advice to him, it takes time. Just let him be who he is and let him develop. So no rush.”
Dahlin, who turns 22 on Wednesday, knows the hardships of this development process from his own experience. After achieving dynamic success early in his career, he struggled mightily before turning into an NHL All-Star that season.
“He’s someone who’s had similar experiences, so I think he’s someone I could really lean on and just try to ask him every question I can and just learn from him,” Power said a crowd of reporters after Monday’s practice at Ford Performance Center, his first in the NHL.
Sabers coach Don Granato said Dahlin could have a “big, big impact” on Power, the top pick in 2021.
“We have a lot of people who are happy to have Owen here, but I think Dahls has gained a lot of experience that he’s keen to share,” Granato said. “Dahls is a guy who cares about his teammates and his team. He’s absolutely a team first guy. Rasmus Dahlin is incredible, his team first attitude. It’s just an instinctive attitude.
“He’s been talking about Owen and his arrival for some time prior to this week. I’m excited to meet Owen, to be around him, and it shows.”
Everyone seems excited to be with Power, who signed his entry-level contract on Friday, a day after his Michigan season ended.
At the conclusion of Monday’s practice, winger Vinnie Hinostroza Power, a native of nearby Mississauga, Ontario, pushed into center ice to lead the stretch around his teammates. The Sabers then greeted him by banging their sticks on the ice for about a minute.
“It was pretty fun,” said Power, whose parents, Zee and Trish, observed the session. “It was fun for everyone.”
He added: “Everyone was so welcoming and so nice to me. They always try to include me in everything. I think they did a great job in making it easy for me to come in and fit in.”
A simple action like confirming Power’s arrival underscores the tight-knit group the Sabers have become this season.
“No one has to be the savior,” Granato said. “This group is going to do it together and they are building together. You can see the camaraderie and passion they have for each other and put on the jersey. It’s fun to be a coach. You people who were all in the building saw the stick snap as Owen walked in and all you could see was a group of about 20 guys who were just completely absorbed in themselves and nothing else. In that moment. It’s fun to watch as a coach.”
Joining a new team is nothing new for the 6-foot-6, 213-pound powerhouse. He has played for a whopping five – Michigan, Team Canada at the Worlds, World Juniors and Olympics and now the Sabers – in less than a year.
“If you think about how many teams he’s been on in the last two years and the pressure he’s had on him or the hype that he’s put on him in the last two years, it just blows his mind,” said Granato . “He’s handling it pretty well, especially when he’s putting his hockey gear on. Standing here off the ice might be different, but when these guys get into the locker room and put on their gear, they’re in their element.
“You’ve been doing this your whole life. They’ve dreamed about it, they’ve imagined it hundreds of times, so it’s pretty natural to them.”
Still, jumping from college to the NHL with just one practice session isn’t easy. Power also participated in the Sabers’ optional pregame skate ahead of Sunday afternoon’s 5-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We didn’t give Owen much information,” Granato said. “I don’t want information overload. Even systems, look at the National Hockey League, we all play 85 percent the same system. These guys know how to play games, so we don’t want to put a lot on him. We do not have.
“We let him absorb it at his own pace. Training was big to take him to training to see how we train and play. We have certain priorities. But it will all come kind of organically.”