Hockey History: Four Michigan Wolverines Selected In Top Five Of NHL Draft
It was a record-setting night for Michigan's hockey team, with three current Wolverines going in the top five of the NHL Draft and pledge Luke Hughes going fourth overall, giving U-M four of the top five picks.
Defenseman Owen Power was selected first overall by the Buffalo Sabres, while fellow Wolverines Matty Beniers, Luke Hughes and Kent Johnson helped the Wolverines represent four of the first five picks in the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft on Friday night (July 23).
"It's pretty special," Power told NHL.com. "Just being able to have a bunch of my family behind me and celebrate with me was pretty special and even better than the way I thought it was going to turn out.
"I didn't know (Buffalo would choose me) until they called my name. I was kind of hoping. They've got a lot of young prospects and I think a promising future, so I'm excited for what's to come."
Matt Beniers went No. 2 to the expansion Seattle Kraken, Hughes to the New Jersey Devils and center Kent Johnson fifth overall to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“It’s an extraordinary year to say the least, and I’m coming up on my 40th year in college hockey at the Division 1 level,” Michigan head coach Mel Pearson told MiningJournal.net. “I’ve been around some high-end players, but never the quality and the quantity that we’re seeing here at Michigan. Just extremely proud and extremely happy for the young men and their families.”
Mackie Samoskevich rounded out the U-M first round contingent, going No. 24 overall to the Florida Panthers.
Power becomes the first Michigan player selected with the first overall pick in the NHL Draft and is just the sixth Wolverine to be picked No. 1 in their respective drafts, joining Tom Harmon (NFL, 1941), Elmer Madar (NFL, 1947), Cazzie Russell (NBA, 1966), Chris Webber (NBA, 1993) and Jake Long (NFL, 2008).
Power is also just the fourth college player selected No. 1 overall in the NHL Draft (Joe Murphy, Michigan State in 1986; Rick DiPietro, Boston University in 2000; Erik Johnson, Minnesota in 2006).
Power and Beniers became the first pair of college teammates to be selected with the first two picks in the NHL Draft. Michigan also became the first collegiate team to have a player drafted by all 32 NHL franchises with Beniers going to Seattle, while the selections of Power, Beniers and Johnson made Michigan the first school to have three current players taken in the first round in a single draft.
"There are so many words I can use to describe it, it's surreal," Beniers said. "It's honestly amazing. I could not be happier, and I'm honestly at a loss of words just thinking about what just happened and, actually, being drafted in the first place, going second overall and going to a new expansion team. I'm so unbelievably excited and thankful for everything."
Michigan also became the only school to have five players/recruits selected in the first round of one draft.
“NHL people were trying to find their way into our building in a lot of different ways, whether as an usher or working in the press box or whatever,” Pearson said with a laugh, noting how scouts were limited due to COVID.
They saw what they needed to see, however, making for an historic night in hockey history. The respective teams may have to wait a year, however, before getting their hands on them. Both Power and Beniers have said they're leaning toward a return to Michigan next year.
"I know we're talking about the No. 1 overall pick and a player that is clearly capable of stepping right into the NHL, but you have to look at the long game even with a player at this level and say, 'What is best for him, how does he continue to get better?'" Sabres GM Kevyn Adams said. "For me, it's great to have someone step right in and they're playing, but really want to make sure these guys are going to be at their peak however many years that takes.
"It's too early, but we're going to sit down and have those discussions. We're absolutely open to what we think is the best to work with Owen to help him become the best player he can."
Players can sign entry-level contracts and play in the NHL next season after the college season ends, giving them options.
"I think I can step in and play," Power said. "I don't think the decision will be whether or not I'm ready to play — it's what is better for my development at the end of the day. I don't think there's a bad option, and it's something we have to figure out."
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