(Reuters) -The Buffalo Sabres selected Owen Power with the first pick of the 2021 NHL Draft on Friday, hoping the 18-year-old Canadian defenseman can help turn around the fortunes of the long-suffering franchise.
Power, who was widely viewed as the top-ranked prospect due in part to his combination of size, mobility and poise, spent last season playing for the University of Michigan.
The left-handed defenseman grew up in Mississauga, Ontario, about 90 miles (144 km) from Buffalo, and had three goals and 13 assists in 26 games last season as a freshman with Michigan and won a gold medal with Canada at the 2021 world championship.
Buffalo may have to wait to see Power in their lineup as the 6-foot-6, 213-pound defenseman said recently he was leaning toward playing his sophomore season at Michigan and would not make a decision until after the draft.
This year's NHL Draft marked the second time in four years the Sabres have held the first pick after having selected Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in 2018.
Buffalo are coming off a miserable season in which they finished last in the NHL and did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a 10th straight season.
The draft, which will conclude on Saturday, was held in a virtual format for a second consecutive year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Seattle Kraken, who launch their inaugural NHL season in October, took American forward Matthew Beniers, Power's teammate at Michigan, with the second pick while the Anaheim Ducks used the third choice to select center Mason McTavish of the Ontario Hockey League's Peterborough Petes.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Sandra Maler)