Former Sabres goalie Steve Shields knows Michigan stars very well

Wolverines defenseman Owen Power is likely to be taken first overall by the Sabres

(WGR 550) – The University of Michigan has three players that could be drafted in the top-10 of the 2021 NHL Draft in July. Owen Power is expected to go first overall to the Buffalo Sabres, while forwards Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson are also highly regarded.

Former Sabres goalie Steve Shields played at Michigan, and is now their director of player development. He joined "The Instigators" with Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet on Wednesday to talk about all three prospects, as well as Buffalo's 2019 third round goalie, Erik Portillo, who will slide into the starting role for the Wolverines this fall.

Shields, of course, likes them has hockey players, but he said there’s more to it than that.

“They’re just unbelievable guys that for their age, have a lot of maturity," the former 10-year veteran of the NHL said on WGR.

“Owen comes across as and has a confidence about him, but he’s curious about things and pretty sure of himself. He’d be a great asset.”

Much has been said about how well Power did for Team Canada, winning the gold medal at the World Championship in Latvia. Shields said he was even better than he was at Michigan.

“When I saw Owen play at the World Championship, he looked better at that level than he did even in college," Shields said. "That says a lot of the potential of somebody like that.”

If the Sabres trade down in the draft, they could wind up with Beniers.

“'Matty’s' a very intelligent young man. He’s really sharp and razor focused on becoming a great player," Shields said. "From what I hear them say when they compare Kent to Matty, is Matty is more NHL ready. You could plug him in pretty much anywhere and he would do OK, but what he brings, in terms of his intensity and his ability to play anywhere, is something pretty special.

“To me, he has a really high ceiling. I just saw him get better, in terms of doing everything well. He doesn’t have a lot of deficiencies.”

In his freshman season, Portillo backed up Strauss Mann, going 4-1-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. Mann has turned pro, so the job is now Portillo’s.

“I like how he takes in information from all the coaches, and is a diamond in the rough to the point where I look at this kid and I see parts of Vasilevskiy in him," Shields said. "He’s a very athletic player who wants to use his athletic ability, which I love, because that stuff you can’t teach. The stuff that you can teach goalies, he’s really raw at like his skating, he’s going to get better at, his save selection like doing the same thing every time, making the right save, he’s more new to that.

"He’s not the most outgoing kid, but put him in a game and he’s a different animal. He’s yelling at the guys, he’s communicating and there’s parts of him in the game that remind me of Jacob Markstrom, just the way he’s into the game.”

Portillo is a huge goalie, standing 6-foot-6. He’ll be 21 by the time Michigan starts its season in October.

Power scored three goals and 13 assists for 16 points in his freshman season. Johnson was Michigan’s second-leading scorer, netting nine goals and 18 assists for 27 points in 26 games. Beniers had 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points in 24 games.

***Photo: Michigan Photography