BUFFALO – Scan through each NHL roster and try to pick out every so-called franchise defenseman. Most teams don’t have one.
In Owen Power and Rasmus Dahlin, the Sabres possess two.
This week, Power and Dahlin each signed long-term contract extensions, ensuring two foundational pieces can remain teammates through the 2030-31 season.
“It just helps you build everything around that,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said prior to Thursday’s 5-1 opening night loss to the New York Rangers at KeyBank Center. “And that’s why I felt it was so important to be proactive with them, make sure they understood how important they are to us and what we’re building here. Make sure that we’re aligned and that they truly wanted to be here for the right reasons.
“When that matched, it was like, ‘Let’s go all-in and figure out a way to get this done.’”
The Sabres have completed five long-term deals in the last 14 months, also locking up centers Dylan Cozens and Tage Thompson and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson.
Identifying and securing those core talents for their prime years allows the Sabres to concentrate on others areas as they plan their future.
“You want to have tough decisions,” Adams said. “You’re putting a puzzle together, you’re planning long-term but you also have to look short-term and how you can win hockey games now. But to have those pillars in place, foundational pieces that are here for a long time, is a big help as we plan this out.”
Power, 20, is the Sabres’ youngest pillar. Both sides wanted to complete his extension before the season started, and on Wednesday night, the Sabres announced a seven-year, $58.45 million deal, which kicks in next year.
“It’s nice to have it done and just be able to go out and play hockey,” said Power, whose agents began negotiating with the Sabres in the spring.
Power, like Dahlin, who on Monday inked an eight-year, $88 million contract, the largest in franchise history, made it clear he wanted to stay in Buffalo for a long time.
“When I first got here, I fell in love with the city,” said Power, the first overall pick in 2021. “It was awesome. And then I think you look at the group we have from management down and kind of the core of that we’ve been building, I think it was a pretty easy decision to want to be here long-term.”
The 6-foot-6, 218-pound Power earned his huge deal just 87 games into his career. In his first full season in 2022-23, he showcased remarkable maturity, earning ice time usually given to established stars.
He averaged 23 minutes, 48 seconds of ice time a game, putting him first among NHL rookies and 30th overall. His total five-on-five ice time – a whopping 1,588 minutes – ranked fourth among all players. Only Erik Karlsson, Adam Larsson and Drew Doughty played more.
“They weren’t sheltered minutes, all the situations, in that position at that age,” Adams said. “… Everybody can see that he has talent, but the maturity he plays with, the calmness, the poise, and he’s still getting bigger and stronger. So he’s just scratching the surface of what I believe he can do.
“When you have defensemen like him that can be out there 25-plus minutes per game in every situation and then you add, by the way, Rasmus Dahlin and Samuelsson that are young and can eat up huge minutes, I think that’s a really good place to start building your team.”
Power, as Adams said, should only get better. After scoring four goals and 35 points in 79 games last season, he said he focused on improving his shot and “scoring ability.”
“He’s going to become better in all areas,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “You learn the league, and you learn the system and the tendencies of other players. And once you learn it, you learn to execute against it faster. So you have hindsight now that can help you close on a guy quicker. You know the tendencies of a certain player, tendencies of a system of another team, familiarity.
“And it allows you to be more decisive. … As he’s gone through it he’s seen more offensive simplicity, if that makes sense. Just ways to gain greater efficiency offensively.”
This season, the Sabres have an average age of 25.5 years, the NHL’s youngest roster, according to capfriendly.com. They also had the league’s youngest lineup last season, when with about 20 games remaining, Granato told his players “young is getting old.”
“Meaning I’m sick of hearing we are young and whatnot,” he said. “These guys have gained a lot of NHL experience in game numbers. And I think we need to look at that. They’ve (earned) opportunity to grow and develop as players faster.
“We put a real premium on developing, immersing and experiences to grow faster. So I do feel like even though we are young, we’ve gained a lot of experience that we now need to know we are executing on gaining that experience.”
Granato believes that experience will help rookie winger Zach Benson, who cracked the lineup at just 18, acclimate to the NHL.
“We have that ability to bring a young player in like Benson because he is surrounded by more experience than our younger guys were a year ago,” he said. “I think we’re in a better position to handle a younger guy now than we were a season ago when we had three younger guys, Power, (JJ) Peterka and (Jack) Quinn.”
Notes: The Sabres scratched goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, defenseman Jacob Bryson and center Tyson Jost (all healthy). … Former Sabres defenseman and coach Phil Housley and former Sabres captain and Rochester Americans assistant coach Michael Peca are in their first season as assistants with the Rangers. … Bills safety Damar Hamlin pumped up the crowd prior to the opening faceoff by beating a Sabres drum.