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Colorado Avalanche Top 25 Under 25: #3 Cale Makar


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San Jose Sharks v Colorado Avalanche - Game Six Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey community. Eight writers and 320 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2018 in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.

It’s hard to believe that Cale Makar’s NHL debut with the Colorado Avalanche was four months ago (because it seems like it was yesterday). The former fourth overall draft pick in 2017 hit the ground running with the Avalanche in the Stanley Cup playoffs after wrapping up one of the most dominant individual seasons in NCAA history.

A Season for the Ages

Makar won so many individual accolades and trophies last season that it’s impossible to list all of them. However, Makar’s biggest individual accomplishment was being named the 2019 Hobey Baker Award winner as the best player in college hockey last season. Just to name a few, Makar was also named Hockey East’s Player of the Year, was the conference’s only unanimous selection to their First All-Star Team, was a CCM/AHCA First Team All-American, and both New England’s and CHN’s Player of the Year. During the NCAA playoffs, Makar was the Most Outstanding Player of Northeast Regional, named to the Northeast Regional All-Tournament team.

The only blemish on Makar’s otherwise historic sophomore season (and NCAA career) was not being able to win a national championship with the UMass Minutemen. UMass won a regular season championship and advanced all the way to the Frozen Four, but were shutout in the championship game and settled for second-best in the country. Less than a couple of hours after the end of that game, Makar signed his entry-level contract with Colorado and headed to Denver to join the Avalanche for Game 3 of their first-round series against Calgary.

A Taste of the NHL

It was a wild journey to get Makar to Denver in time for that game, but he arrived safely and replaced the then-injured Samuel Girard in the Game 3 lineup Monday night. Of course, Avalanche fans were extremely excited to watch one of the organization’s most highly anticipated prospects make his NHL debut.

Let’s just say that Cale did not disappoint.

But ask anyone who’s watched Makar play for the UMass Minutemen this season, and they’ll probably tell you that the game he had wasn’t all that surprising. If anything, Makar becoming the first defenseman in NHL history to score his first NHL goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs is proof of just how special a player he is — and a sign of things to come for the Colorado Avalanche. [Mile High Hockey]

The fact that Makar looked so comfortable so quickly in the NHL was incredible. It was a testament to how much he had grown in the NCAA and that there was nothing left for him to accomplish there.

“Makar had the occasional defensive miscue, but what player doesn’t have those? Makar didn’t look like a rookie at all; in fact, he played like a seasoned NHL pro in these playoffs. Makar’s confidence and calm demeanor made him a force at both ends of the ice... His confidence never wavered. He used his stick to break up scoring chances and his skating to start rushes and get back to defend the Avalanche zone.” [Mile High Hockey]

A national championship would have been the perfect way to cap off a dream season, but finishing second didn’t take away from anything Makar did last season with the Minutemen. And even though it would have been fun to see Makar continue to excel with the Avalanche for another playoff round, expectations will be extremely high for Makar this season.

Cale for Calder?

Because Makar made his NHL debut during the Stanley Cup playoffs, he is still eligible for the Calder Trophy next season. Given that he looked so comfortable in his short NHL stint already, he looks like the early favorite (although we expect players like Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko to challenge him).

Let’s try and temper those expectations, though. Yes, Makar has drawn Erik Karlsson comparisons since before he was even drafted (and they went toe-to-toe against each other in the second round last spring), but we shouldn’t demand a Karlsson-like start to the season from Makar. After all, the 2019-2020 season is technically Makar’s rookie year in the NHL, and it’s going to be a learning curve no matter what:

As a full time rookie, Makar will look electrifying at times, but won’t be without the errors you see from any young player. Filling the role vacated by Tyson Barrie, Makar will be asked to be a dynamic puck mover and PP contributor. [Mile High Hockey]

Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar heavily sheltered Makar in his ten-game stint last spring. Those offensive zone starts increased after Makar was paired with Girard (though they played extremely well together and were puck possession-darlings). Although they probably won’t be paired together at the start of the season, Makar will likely play second-pair minutes with a veteran like Ian Cole and continue his development into what is hopefully Colorado’s number one defenseman.

Given how quickly Makar has taken to the NHL game, it’s only a matter of time.

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All NCAA statistics are from All NHL statistics are from Natural Stat Trick.