The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by Mile High Hockey staff members. Five writers have ranked players under the age of 25 in the Colorado Avalanche organization as of July 1, 2023. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.
Cale Makar, the NHL’s best defenseman for the Colorado Avalanche, is still somehow only 24 years old. This will be his last year on Mile High Hockey’s Top 25 under 25, as he will celebrate his 25th birthday the day before Halloween. What else can you say about him that already hasn’t been said?
He won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player, then the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie, then the Norris Trophy as its best defenseman, culminating with the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ best player—all in just three years. He played only 60 games last season and still finished as a Norris finalist. He is the definition of a superstar, all before the age of 25.
You want goal-scoring? This video aptly titled “Cale Makar Goals But They Get Increasingly More Impressive” has it all.
How about skating? At this point, his edgework is the stuff of legend, and he has sent enough people into the shadow realm with his skating prowess to fill months of YouTube content.
But what really separates him as a true super-duper-star is his shutdown defensive ability. Many players—like last year’s Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson—can put up offensive numbers that rival Makar’s. Still, none of the myriad top-shelf offensive defensemen in today’s NHL can go toe to toe with Connor McDavid in the Western Conference Final and win the way that Cale Makar (and Devon Toews) did in 2022.
It’s difficult to say none of this was surprising to those of us who watched him play at UMass before he joined the Avs. Still, it’s really not that shocking watching him put the league on blast when he spent nearly his entire collegiate career literally skating circles around the NCAA. It was clear as day that the Minutemen had something truly special on their hands from the moment he stepped on campus.
As seen throughout those videos, Cale Makar is a one-man breakout machine. One aspect of the modern game that (some) teams agonize over is finding players or strategies that can help them cleanly exit their defensive zone. Plenty of defenders are good at defending their own net and/or challenging cycling offense and/or battling in the corners. Still, not as many are good at corralling the puck in their own zone under pressure and getting it up ice in a productive fashion. Teams spend lots of resources trying to find ways to cleanly transition from defense to offense, as this is the pivot point upon which countless NHL games are decided every year.
One thing that makes the Avalanche such a unique threat to the rest of the league is that for 20+ minutes per night, Cale Makar will win this critical portion of the game for them. Add in Bowen Byram and Sam Girard to the equation, and you see why so much of the league quakes in their boots for the Avs in a way that they don’t for other similarly talented teams like the Maple Leafs (the Stanley Cup Championship doesn’t hurt either). Thanks to Makar and his puck-moving compatriots, you just don’t get that many chances to pin the Avs in their own end.
Cale Makar is, quite simply, a modern-day Bobby Orr. He is changing how the game is played on a level no one else can match. Erik Karlsson can help create 500 goals in a season, but he’ll give up 500 (or more) on the other end. There are a handful of players who can do some of what Makar can do, but no one can do everything he does. I know this famed overtime goal against Chicago on national TV is up in one of those videos above, but let’s watch it again. Savor it. Bask in its glow. This is a defenseman making NHLers look like rec leaguers and sending the grown men announcing the game into hysterics.
It would be incredible enough if Makar’s talents stopped at his prodigious physical capabilities. Still, the man earned an “A” on his chest practically the moment he stepped into an NHL locker room. All his Avalanche teammates deeply respect him, and his work ethic, leadership, and effort have earned him revered status in locker rooms throughout the league. Everything about him is generational. He is the only player to threaten Connor McDavid’s status as hockey’s most outstanding player, as even The Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky, said after the 2022 Western Conference Finals that Makar was the best player in that series.
Appreciate this, Avalanche fans. Win, lose, or draw, we get to root for a player who is on a trajectory toward being an all-time great, and he is undoubtedly going to be the last player to ever wear #8 in burgundy and blue. Cale Makar embodies everything people love about hockey, and this unique talent is just getting started making his indelible mark on the league.
2023 Top 25 Under 25
#2 Bowen Byram
#6 Sean Behrens
#10 Ben Meyers
#11 Sam Malinksi
#12 Jason Polin
#13 Ondrej Pavel
#14 Alex Beaucage
#15 Sampo Ranta
#16 Taylor Makar
#17 Jeremy Hanzel
#18 Trent Miner
#19 Colby Ambrosio
#21 Matt Stienburg
#22 Chris Romaine
#23 Maros Jedlicka
#24 Andrei Buyalsky
#25: Nikita Ishimnikov