Power under 5 to jump from college to the pros


WASHINGTON (AP) — Three days after winning the national title wearing a full cage helmet, Bobby Brink took to the ice in the US capital for his rookie round with nothing on his head but a big smile.

North of the border at the center of the hockey universe, Owen Power did the same in his fresh Buffalo Sabers uniform at the Toronto Arena, where he attended games as a kid.

Brink and Power were among five players who made their NHL debuts Tuesday night, fresh out of college. Matty Beniers became the first Seattle draft pick to play for the expansion franchise when the Kraken visited the Calgary Flames, and Arizona made a doubles Olympic debut with American Nathan Smith and Canadian Jack McBain in the lineup against New Jersey Play in Beijing.

Brink couldn’t sit still for two hours before the warm-up and couldn’t stop smiling and fidgeting with his racquet in the seconds before he drove through the tunnel in front of his Philadelphia teammates. The feat of rising so quickly from the Frozen Four to the pros with a handful of others hadn’t escaped him.

“It’s definitely cool to see other guys play and make their debuts,” said Brink, who was the nation’s top scorer en route to helping Denver win its ninth national title. “I imagine their situation is quite similar to mine. It is also something very special for them.”

There was no relaxation for either player. Power’s first shift was against Maple Leafs stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, while Brink lined up for the opening faceoff alongside childhood hero Alex Ovechkin.

“A guy I watched a lot,” he said. “It’s definitely a really cool moment to play against a legend and one of the greatest players of all time.”

Power, from nearby Mississauga, Ontario, ran for almost 20 minutes in front of friends and family in a 5-2 Sabers win. He was swarmed by them – many wearing his new Buffalo No. 25 jersey.

Once Kent Johnson and Michigan teammate Nick Blankenburg line up for the Blue Jackets, who could perform as early as Wednesday in Montreal, they will become the 10th and 11th players running in the NCAA and NHL this season.

Boston signed free agent Marc McLaughlin and pocketed him straight last month, and Toronto did the same with Nick Abruzzese, a fourth-round pick in 2019 that had become one of the Leafs’ top prospects. Brink is the third varsity player to debut for the Flyers this spring, following Noah Cates and Ronnie Attard.

It’s not uncommon for prospects to play late in the NHL season after they graduate from college, although this year the sheer depth of the talent is greater than usual. Flyers coach Mike Yeo credits this breakthrough to the collegiate development system.

“It says a lot about the college coaching that we’re seeing right now, as far as how these players are being developed and possibly even recruited,” Yeo said. “There’s a lot of competition at the college level and I think they get great coaching at that level.”

Some of the players even got the added boost of participating in the hockey tournament at the Olympics because the NHL was not participating. Johnson would become the 10th Beijing Olympian to reach the NHL this season, along with Canadian teammates Power and McBain, Beniers, Smith, Abruzzese, Cates and Smith from the US, and two veterans from Finland’s gold-medal-winning team: goaltender Harri Sateri and defenseman Petteri Lindbohm.

USA Hockey brought 15 collegiate players to Beijing, making it likely many of them would reach the NHL, but five that quick is impressive and Matthew Knies could be six if he signs with Toronto.

“Great special,” Cates said. “We had a really fun group over there. Kind of expected how good all these players were. I’m obviously very happy for all these guys and it will be fun to watch and play against these guys in the years to come.”


Follow AP Hockey author Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno


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