Makar enters Final showing attributes to be truly great with Avalanche

Makar enters Final showing attributes to be truly great with Avalanche

But Carvel, the coach at the University of Massachusetts, had a suggestion.

“I said, ‘I don’t know anyone else in this draft, but you need to take Hold Makar first overall,'” Carvel said. “Just kind of joking. And he said, ‘Carvey,’ if I do that, he’ll never get to UMass. I said, ‘OK, don’t take him. Don’t take him.'”

The Devils didn’t. They chose Hischier with Patrick going No. 2 to the Philadelphia Flyers and defenseman Miro Heiskanen No. 3 to the Dallas Stars before the Colorado Avalanche selected Makar at No. 4.

Five years later, Shero might be kicking himself.

“He was a pretty nice pick,” retired Avalanche goalie and Hockey Hall of Famer Patrick Roy said. “I’m sure there are three teams that are watching the games going, ‘Holy cow, what did we do?'”

[RELATED: 2022 Stanley Cup Final scheduleStanley Cup Final coverage]

Hischier has been solid as Devils captain and had NHL career highs of 21 goals, 39 assists and 60 points this season. Makar is a revelation, a defenseman with the potential to top 100 points and a ceiling that doesn’t seem to exist. He’s an edge-of-your-seat player with all the attributes needed to be truly great — skating, vision, passing — and he’s 23 years old.

And now, he gets a chance to show just how good he is on a national stage with the Avalanche set to play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. The best-of-7 series begins at Ball Arena in Denver on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

“Cale Makar is in another world,” Roy said. “I think he could become the best defenseman to ever play the game. It’s a treat watching him play. He’s in the rush, he’s got great hands.

“Watching him play, I guess every NHL GM or anyone who does anything with hockey, at any level, probably dreams of having a Makar on his team.”

Which was exactly why the minute Carvel was hired by UMass on March 29, 2016, athletic director Ryan Bamford gave him a stern message.

“As soon as you hang up this phone, you need to call Cale Makar,” Carvel recalled being told.

It was not a request. It was an order.

With a new coach, UMass did not want to lose the prize recruit.

Makar would help transform the UMass hockey program and build it into a national championship contender, losing the 2019 NCAA Division I championship game at Minnesota-Duluth. He became the school’s first winner of the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in NCAA Division I hockey, in 2019. He hopped into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and wowed the hockey world with six points (one goal, five assists) in 10 games. He would move to the NHL full-time for the 2019-20 season, winning the Calder Trophy voted as the NHL rookie of the year.

He would get better and better and better, finishing this season with 86 points (28 goals, 58 assists), leading defensemen in goals, and is a finalist for the Norris Trophy voted as the best defenseman in the NHL after finishing second last season to adam fox of the New York Rangers.

“I think he’s just an amazing talent,” said Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, who won the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2001. “He does it all. As good as he is offensively — skilled and fast — in every , every aspect he’s by far the most exciting player to watch at that position.

“I’m just really impressed with him, how he plays defense, how he competes and how strong he plays and how tough he is to play against, even with all that offensive talent. You’ve got to say that his offensive talent is far beyond anyone you watch playing that position.

“But then again, you look at how responsible he is in his own end and I’m so happy to see that. So many guys are one-dimensional and they kind of get pegged into being known as that kind of player. But not him. As exciting as he is to watch offensively, he’s exciting to watch on the other side, making big breakups or being physical.”

The words pile up, braces from luminaries past and present. They are hefty, heavy. They might weigh on a player, being lauded like this and compared to Hall of Famers like Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey, as Bourque did.

Then again, this isn’t new.

Carvel finally saw Makar in person in September of 2016, when he flew to Alberta to look at the young defenseman who inspired such a demand from his boss. Makar took the ice, skating in warmups and Carvel called one of his assistants.

“We have Erik Karlsson coming to UMass. Do you guys know this?” Carvel said.

It might be the last time anyone underestimated Makar.

By Makar’s second season at UMass, the coach upped the ante after watching him improve his strength and stamina. He predicted that Makar would become the “McDavid of defensemen,” comparing him to Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavidwho was taking the NHL by storm and who Makar and the Avalanche swept in the Western Conference Final this season.

“I think at the time people were like, ‘How dare you say that? That’s not fair,'” Carvel said. “And I just felt it was true.”

Carvel has watched Makar add pieces to his game that he didn’t have in college, maturing in his vision and ability to read the play, and the world has discovered what he found out six years ago.

He has not been surprised, even if others still marvel.

“The minute he gets the puck his vision, how he sees the play, his outlet passes and how he could skate it out if needed or how he just follows up the play is amazing,” Bourque said. “He’s just an amazing player. I love watching him. He’s going to be winning a lot of Norris trophies and this year might be his first.”

It might be, though Makar has stiff competition: Victor Hedman of the Lightning and Nashville Predators captain Roman Josi.

Whatever happens with the awards or in the Stanley Cup Final, there is one thing most agree on: They’re not sure what the ceiling is for Makar, but they’re pretty sure he hasn’t reached it.

“After watching the [Western Conference Final] series, Makar is a special, special guy,” Coffey said. “Every five years I get interviewed about a defenseman. It could be Mike Green going for 40 goals. It could be Erik Karlsson in Ottawa. To each reporter that asks me about players like that, I tell them to call me next year. Like, I’ll do the interview but call me next year to see if the guy is consistent.

“But a guy like Makar, he’s going to consistently do it. You see it now. The sky’s the limit.” columnists Dave Stubbs and Nicholas J. Cotsonika, and staff writer Mike Zeisberger, contributed to this report


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