It comes as no surprise that Cale Makar is the early favorite to win the Calder Trophy, an award bestowed upon the league’s best rookie at the end of each season. Although it is Makar’s first full year in the NHL, he proved he belonged when he first joined the Colorado Avalanche’s lineup during the 2019 playoffs.
Makar led UMass Amherst to the NCAA Men’s hockey final last year, where they fell to Minnesota-Duluth. That was on Saturday, April 13, and by the next day Makar had signed his first professional contract with Colorado, who was already two games into its opening round series against the Calgary Flames.
The young defenseman, 20 years old at the time, entered the Avalanche’s lineup on Monday for Game 3 at home. Colorado’s confidence in penciling Makar in for his first game with so much on the line goes to show how dominant he was believed to be. That night, Makar delivered with his first goal en route to helping the Avalanche win 6-2. What a whirlwind three days for the young player’s career.
After having a summer to finally take a break, the defenseman has returned for his official rookie season in top form. He has 22 points in just 20 games for Colorado, putting him second on the team in points behind only Nathan MacKinnon. But even more impressively, that ranks him tied for second in points in the NHL among all defensemen. He is tied with Carolina’s Dougue Hamilton, and trails only Washington’s John Carlson.
Makar is instantly becoming one of the best blueliners in the league, with obvious potential to become a perennial Norris Trophy candidate. He possesses the defensive prowess to become the most coveted defender in the league. These days, players who are as successful as him on the backend, both with and without the puck, are nearly impossible to come by.
His immediate transition presents a win for college hockey, as Makar grew up in Western Canada but chose to develop in the NCAA system. Drafted fourth overall in 2017, he began playing at UMass in that same year, before bolting to the NHL following his sophomore year.
The seamless promotion to the big show could open the eyes of young aspiring defensemen as they look to decide what path they would like to endure towards reaching the sport’s highest level. While Makar is certainly an anomaly, the difference defensively from the college level to the NHL may not be as stark as with Junior hockey leagues. The junior level is often filled with younger players, sometimes even as young as 16. Meanwhile, most players in the NCAA are at least 18 and thus more developed.
Prospects noted as the most talented in the world often need years to make the change from lower level hockey into the NHL. While forwards usually can make this switch quicker, defensemen need more time to learn all of the defensive intricacies that come with playing in the best league in the world.
Cale Makar, however, is not one of those people, as he has already emerged as one of the best blueliners in hockey. Expect him to lead Colorado on deep playoff runs for years to come, just as he did last spring at UMass. The hockey community knew that he could immediately play in the NHL, but few anticipated the impact he would have. With an already elite crew surrounding him in Colorado, he will push the franchise closer to its next Stanley Cup.