Coming off a wonderful World Championship that noticed him play essential minutes for gold-medal Canada, defenseman Owen Energy solely cemented his standing because the No. 1 prospect within the 2021 draft – not that he wanted the assistance. The College of Michigan blueliner has the dimensions, skating and two-way talent to be a top-end NHLer for the following decade-and-a-half and because of the draft lottery, he nearly assuredly will accomplish that in a Buffalo Sabres uniform.
However when does that run start?
Just lately, Energy was interviewed on the NHL Community, the place he stated he was “leaning” in direction of staying in school subsequent season and truthfully, I feel it is a fairly strong plan if he goes via with it.
From a person standpoint, Energy would get a way more regular school expertise if he spends one other season in Ann Arbor. The pandemic threw all points of life into flux and universities had been no completely different. Michigan’s hockey group was significantly impacted, because the Wolverines had been pressured to drop out of the nationwide championship event as a result of last-minute Covid protocols and given the group they’d, they in all probability might have achieved some injury.
However looking forward to subsequent 12 months, the Wolverines might be even higher. Energy’s recreation has already grown leaps and bounds whereas the identical will be stated for facilities Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson, two different Michigan merchandise who’re anticipated to go excessive within the 2021 draft. Add in one more 2021 top-10 prospect in defenseman Luke Hughes, who might be becoming a member of as a freshman subsequent season, plus returnees reminiscent of Brendan Brisson (VGK), Johnny Beecher (BOS) and Thomas Bordeleau (SJ), and you have fairly the crew.
So Energy could be taking part in on one of the crucial gifted groups within the nation with a shot at a Frozen 4, plus a possibility to swimsuit up for Canada on the world juniors – one thing that did not occur this previous 12 months as a result of Canada’s extraordinarily lengthy coaching camp and the protocols surrounding it.
Staying at Michigan would additionally permit the Sabres to get all their geese in a row with out exposing Energy to any short-term chaos. It’s well-known that franchise middle Jack Eichel will not be lengthy for Buffalo and there are query marks about fellow top-six ahead Sam Reinhart’s future on the town as effectively. Dealing one or each of these gamers would dramatically change Buffalo’s roster and 2021-22 will probably be one other painful marketing campaign for the Sabres. But when GM Kevyn Adams can set a brand new course, then maybe the 2022-23 season might be somewhat extra optimistic, with everybody on the identical web page. If that is the state of affairs Energy walks into as a rookie, it makes all the things somewhat simpler for the teenager, nearly as good as he’s already.
Currently, we’ve been conditioned to anticipate the No. 1 decide general to go straight to the NHL and in most situations, the gamers have certainly been prepared. The final time a primary general choice didn’t go straight to the NHL was in 2006 when one other massive defenseman, Erik Johnson, was tabbed by the St. Louis Blues (Nail Yakupov frolicked within the KHL in 2012, however that was solely as a result of the NHL was locked out; as soon as it got here again he joined the Oilers instantly). Johnson had been with USA Hockey’s Nationwide Group Growth Program that season and as a substitute of going straight to the professionals after the draft, he fulfilled his dedication to the College of Minnesota. Throughout Johnson’s freshman marketing campaign, the Golden Gophers gained their convention and earned a No. 1 regional seed within the nationwide championship event earlier than falling to North Dakota within the second spherical. On the worldwide stage, he was named the Finest Defenseman on the world juniors whereas serving to Group USA win bronze.
By going to school that 12 months, Johnson additionally missed a disastrous Blues marketing campaign that noticed St. Louis hearth coach Mike Kitchen after a 7-17-4 begin. The subsequent season, Johnson joined the Blues and put up strong numbers as a rookie and although accidents have sidelined his profession at varied factors, the massive D-man nonetheless brings worth when he is within the lineup for the Colorado Avalanche (the place he was traded in a blockbuster involving Kevin Shattenkirk in 2011).
And hey; perhaps Energy adjustments his thoughts and decides he does wish to go straight to Buffalo subsequent season – that is high quality too. He clearly demonstrated his high-end potential on the worlds and appeared comfy taking part in towards NHLers there.
But when Energy does return for his sophomore season at Michigan, he and the Sabres might each reap the advantages of improvement there.