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Taking the Toews Road: Makar happily taking his time on path to NHL

High draft picks rarely see their sophomore NCAA seasons, but it was the right path for future Avalanche star Cale Makar.

Cale Makar doesn’t regret putting his future employment on hold.

The blue-chip Colorado Avalanche prospect, the first top-five NHL draft pick to play two years of NCAA hockey since Jonathan Toews was a sophomore at North Dakota in 2006-07, is thriving as a two-way defenseman and alternate captain at the University of Massachusetts. Makar got off to a great start with the Minutemen in 2018-19: through four games, he was averaging two points per game.

Twelve years earlier, Toews also had a big sophomore season before joining the Chicago Blackhawks, and the three-time Stanley Cup champion has often said his two-year stint at North Dakota developed him into the player he is today.

Makar, drafted fourth overall by the Avalanche in 2017, believes in that two-year NCAA model. And, like Toews, Makar is in a leadership position as a sophomore. “It was a great decision to come back, in terms of my development, and not rushing anything,” said Makar, who turned 20 on Oct. 30. “I take great pride in being recognized as one of the key leaders on this team. One of my other sophomore counterparts, Mario Ferraro, also has an ‘A.’ It’s a big role for us to play, but at the end of the day, it was chosen by our team, and I’m very humbled to have it on my chest. I think we’ve created a great culture here so far.”

After four games, Makar already had three goals – just two shy of what he scored in 34 games as a freshman. He credits a year of experience as well as an off-season training regimen that focused on skating explosiveness. “You’re definitely coming into the year more experienced, and you know what to expect going into every game,” Makar said. “It was a learning curve for me last year, and this year it’s not as eye-opening. As for my training, I feel like I’m a relatively good skater already, but felt I needed to be more explosive in the defensive zone and have that durability in my legs to play equally as well at both sides of the ice.”

Makar has attended the Avs’ past two summer development camps and also follows the NHL team’s training advice. He’s a big fan of Colorado’s playing style and knows he will fit in well when he chooses to sign his entry-level contract – which could happen as soon as UMass’ season ends. “I try to catch as many (Avs) games as I can, whether I’m trying to do homework or whatnot,” Makar said. “They’re a very fast-paced team, and I think our team here at UMass is transitioning to what they are, a very fast transitioning team in the neutral zone and a team that just likes to move pucks quickly up the ice. What I’m watching on TV, it seems like a team I could hop into right away. But at the end of the day, we’ll wait and see when that time comes. I’m focused at UMass this year.”

The future of Colorado’s blueline looks bright indeed. There’s 20-year-old Samuel Girard already playing a big role, with Makar and Conor Timmins, the 32nd overall pick in 2017, waiting in the wings. Timmins, the NHL’s No. 28-ranked prospect in Future Watch 2017, signed a deal with the Avs last spring but has been shut down because of persistent concussion-like symptoms. He didn’t participate in the summer development camp or training camp because of the injury. Makar and Timmins were teammates on Canada’s World Junior Championship team last year. “I definitely feel for the guy,” Makar said. “We’re pretty good friends, obviously from the world juniors. I was trying to keep in touch with him through camp. You never like to see a guy who’s out for that long, especially with a head injury. I really hope he comes back soon, because obviously he’s a big part of their future, and I really like playing with him as well.”

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