UM's NHL exodus begins; Power signs with Buffalo, Johnson/Blankenburg to Columbus

Stephen Whyno
Associated Press

The Michigan exodus is under way.

Less than 24 hours after the loaded Wolverines were knocked out of the Frozen Four short of a national title, some top players moved on to their next goal in the National Hockey League.

Top pick Owen Power signed with the Buffalo Sabres, and fellow Canadian Olympian Kent Johnson inked his three-year entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets on Friday. Michigan captain Nick Blankenburg is joining Johnson in Columbus after signing a one-year deal.

Michigan's Kent Johnson, from left, Owen Power and Matty Beniers watch during an NCAA college hockey practice in September.

U.S. Olympians Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson might not be too far behind in the aftermath of Michigan’s overtime loss to Denver in the NCAA semifinals.

Power could make his NHL debut in a matter of days. The 6-foot-6, 214-pound defenseman was more than a point-a-game player for Michigan and will get some valuable pro experience by suiting up with the Sabres the rest of the season.

Johnson and Blankenburg are expected to join their new team Monday and could also get plugged into the lineup right away.

Blankenburg was a free agent, while Johnson was the fifth pick in the 2021 draft. The skilled 19-year-old forward had 17 goals and 47 assists in his final college season and had five points in four games at the 2022 Olympics representing Canada.

“Kent Johnson is a remarkable young man both on and off the ice,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said.

“He is a highly-skilled and creative player who can bring you out of your seat whenever he’s on the ice. We’re thrilled that he is taking the next step in his career and look forward to his growth and contributions as (with the Blue Jackets) for years to come.”

There are similarly high hopes for Beniers and Brisson, who starred for the U.S. at the Olympics on a team featuring more than a dozen college players. Beniers could soon join the expansion Seattle Kraken after they took him second in the draft, while Brisson was a 2020 first-round pick by Vegas.

Goaltender Erik Portillo (Buffalo), defensemen Luke Hughes and Ethan Edwards (New Jersey) and Jacob Truscott (Vancouver), forwards Thomas Bordeleau (San Jose), John Beecher (Boston), Eric Ciccolini (New York Rangers), Mackie Samoskevich (Florida) and Dylan Duke (Tampa Bay) are the other Michigan players with rights already owned by NHL clubs.