Sure, it’s a cliche – but it’s easy to forget that Cale Makar is a rookie sometimes. The Colorado Avalanche defenseman has already done so much to establish himself in the NHL, but at the tender age of 21, his career truly is just getting started.
So when he and partner Ryan Graves lost Toronto’s Zach Hyman in front of the Avs net for a Maple Leafs goal on Wednesday night, you could chalk it up to miscommunication and a bad decision – or you could recognize that Graves and Makar have played less than 100 games combined in the NHL. And then you see that Makar has 27 points in 27 games – including an assist in what became a 3-1 victory over Toronto that night – and remember how incredible he has been so far. The fact Colorado, a team that can contend for the Stanley Cup this year, has two youngsters playing important minutes on the same pairing speaks to the confidence the Avs have in both Graves and Makar.
“They’ve been pretty good together,” said coach Jared Bednar. “I like some of the offensive things that Graves brings; he’s willing to shoot the puck. He’s been pretty good on the O-zone blueline but he’s also a responsible guy defensively that will make a good first pass. Those two play a lot with the (Nathan) MacKinnon line and we want to get them out playing in the offensive side of things.”
Through one-third of the season, it feels like almost a lock that Makar will win the Calder Trophy and there’s even some Norris buzz – though Washington’s John Carlson is the front-runner right now. So with everyone knowing just how good the puck-moving Makar is already, is it getting harder to operate, or does his growing book of experience make things easier for the former UMass superstar?
“I don’t know if it’s getting easier,” Makar said. “It comes as the team goes. But it’s different this year – I’ve basically played half the college games I have in the span of two months, so I have to keep my body in it and stay fine-tuned.”
As many young NHLers find out, sleep and nutrition are key to surviving (and hopefully thriving) that jam-packed 82-game schedule. Makar already has that on his radar and noted that recovery is so big these days. It also helps that Makar’s not alone. Colorado’s blueline is very likeable right now, with a nice combination of mobility, size and veteran savvy. Though Makar is playing with Graves, he has also spent time with big Nikita Zadorov.
“All of us can play with everybody, we’re a versatile back end in that respect,” Makar said. “I love playing with ‘Gravy’ and anybody can play with anybody on this team.”
With MacKinnon a potential Hart finalist and the rest of the offense much deeper than before thanks to the arrival of Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky, this is shaping up to be a very successful year in Denver, especially since the team has already proven that it won’t be slowed down by injury woes.
Makar is the perfect defenseman for today’s game and the fact his career has only begun makes his potential all the more intriguing. He first opened eyes with his 10-game playoff run last year in Colorado – now the mission is to put together an even longer run.
“We know what our potential is,” he said. “We think we can go deep this year and we know we have the pieces to do it. It’s just a matter of staying healthy and stringing wins together.”
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