Avalanche’s Makar Enjoying Jump Into Playoffs

How was your weekend? Busy? Well, not as busy as Cale Makar’s.

The 20-year-old defenseman made history on Monday by becoming the first defenseman in league history to score a playoff goal in their NHL debut. Two days earlier, Makar was a college sophomore at UMass, battling it out for the national championship one day removed from being named college hockey’s top player.

In a matter of days, Makar has gone from college phenom to the hottest young name in hockey and boy, has it been a ride.

Makar at UMass

Makar’s accolade-filled season at UMass was enough to tell a story about in itself.

In just his second NCAA season, Makar was far and away the best player on the ice. His stat line paints a pretty clear picture of how big an impact the Calgary, Alberta native had on his national title runner-up team.

Cale Makar #8 of the Colorado Avalanche
Just days ago, Makar was a college student. Now, he’s in the middle of the scrum for the Stanley Cup. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

In 41 games, Makar tallied 16 goals and 46 points. With their captain on the ice, the UMass Minutemen buried 82 goals this season and allowed just 23.

It’s hard to overstate how important Makar has been to the revival of UMass’ hockey program. He helped carry the Minutemen as one of college hockey’s top-ranked teams throughout the season. Their success has made Amherst a hockey town. UMass’ arena, the Mullins Center, sold out for the first time in 18 years in December.

Makar was showered with praise for his performance at UMass. ESPN labeled him the best prospect in hockey in March, calling him the most impactful player for a collegiate team since Jack Eichel’s freshman season at Boston University. He and his squad took home the Hockey East regular-season title for the first time in program history, and carried the team to its first ever Frozen Four. Of course, on Friday, he was given the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player.

On Saturday, Makar was denied the title that is college hockey’s highest honor. His team was defeated in the national championship game, a 3-0 loss to Minnesota-Duluth, who claimed their second-straight title.

Makar’s Jump to the NHL

Getting over a loss as devastating as a national championship can be difficult but if there’s anything that’ll make it a easier, it’s fulfilling a lifelong dream of making it to the NHL.

On Sunday, Makar fulfilled his destiny by signing his entry-level contract to join the Colorado Avalanche. Given the season he’s had, and the fact that he was drafted fourth overall by the Avs in 2017, Makar going pro after his sophomore season wasn’t a surprise to anyone.

But his NHL debut was almost too good to be true.

With under four minutes left in the first period of Game 3, Avalanche captain Nathan MacKinnon left a drop pass for Makar as he entered the offensive zone. Makar picked it up, worked his way toward the net, and beat Mike Smith down low to give Colorado their third goal and the eventual game-winner. It was his first NHL shot.

Makar’s historic goal against his childhood team helped the No. 8 seeded Avalanche defeat the No. 1 seeded Flames in a dominant 6-2 victory. The Avs outshot Calgary 56-29, and now hold a 2-1 series lead.

Makar’s Future

The future for Makar is open. First, the defenseman and his new squad will look to continue their success against the NHL’s second-ranked team. Despite his inexperience, Makar will likely play a legitimate role.

By signing his deal and jumping into the fray this postseason, Makar burned the first year of his three-year entry-level deal. He’ll still be treated as a rookie next season, but he’ll become a restricted free agent before the 2021-22 season.

Makar won’t receive the regular-season salary of $925,000 for this season (that will kick in for next year), but he will receive a $92,500 signing bonus for his work in the playoffs.

With this move, the Avs demonstrated that they believe that Makar can have an immediate impact on their playoff run and were willing to shave a season off the back end of his first deal to get him in the lineup. His workload in Game 3 showed just how much the Avs believe in him.

In his first game, Makar was slotted into Colorado’s third defensive pairing, as you’d expect from a player in his debut. But he also ran the Avs’ second power play unit and earned ice time during 4-on-4 play. For a player who just joined the team, Makar’s playing time demonstrates the faith that the Avalanche coaching staff has in the youngster.

Over the next few weeks, Makar and the Avalanche could make playoff history if things go well for them. Or, they could fizzle out against the Flames and be golfing by next week.

Either way, the “Tale of Cale” is just beginning.