(Written August 10)
Did you know what the AJHL was before you heard of Cale Makar? We would guess probably not. It's the "Alberta Junior Hockey League" FYI.
I remember a few names that have come out of this little known league in Western Canada. Brent Sutter in 1980, Mason Raymond of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2000's and more recently Colton Parayko of the St. Louis Blues. However it's Cale Makar, the highest drafted AJHL player of all time, who has put the AJHL on the map.
There's a lot to like about Makar. He's a smart player with a great all round game. He can play all three zones and carry the puck on the forecheck with ease. His stick handling and ability to make crisp tape to tape passes will ensure a lengthy career in the NHL. In fact he's one of a select few who I would call a "franchise defenceman."
Have you missed that in the Rockies? Some may argue you have it in Ty Barrie, but I'd argue the last true franchise d-man was Adam Foote.
Makar doesnt play physical game that Foote did, but he has the tools to be an equal calibre player.
Cale was outstanding at the WJC for Canada, helping them take home gold. Makar had 8 points in 7 games and was named one of the top three players for Canada in the tournament.
What I found interesting about Makar was his choice to stay in the AJHL instead of the WHL to maintain his NCAA eligibility. The AJHL isn't exactly the best competition for someone of his calibre. So for good measure he put up 75 points in 54 games. Makar was an absolute beast for the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Brooks Bandits and won Canadian Junior Hockey League’s MVP honours.
Cale Makar clearly impressed the NHL's top scouts too. His ranking climbed heavily all year despite playing in the AJHL. He was ranked #10 in the final NHL Central Scouting rankings and climbed even further on draft day to 4th overall to the Colorado Avalanche.
Makar posted five goals and 21 points in 34 games for UMass-Amherst during his freshmen season in 2017-18. However a little regression is perfectly normal when you make the jump from the AJHL to the NCAA.
Makar's draft year included a star studded top ten that will be talked about for years to come. The New Jersey Devils cashed in on Switzerland’s Nico Hischier, a forward for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. The Philadelphia Flyers nabbed Brandon Wheat Kings centre Nolan Patrick with the second overall pick and then the Dallas Stars welcomed Finland’s Miro Heiskanen, the first defenceman on the board.
A lot of people, myself included were wondering what would Avalanche GM Joe Sakic do with his 4th overall pick? As I see it there was four legitimate options available: Elias Petterson, Casey Mittlestadt, Cody Glass and Cale Makar.
Three incredible centres were all passed up on for the smooth skating Makar. However I think the choice was easier then meets the eye when you consider they have MacKinnon as their franchise centreman for the next 5 seasons.
Let's just say I wouldn't want to be picked in front of those three. They are all supremely talented centres who should all contribute to their respective NHL clubs AND contend for the Calder trophy this year.
Yet somehow even after writing that statement I'm still not concerned about Makar. He will most likely spend another full season in the NCAA in 2019 while his draft mates start putting up NHL points but the extra year of development is a good thing for the undersized Makar (5 foot 11) to put on some more muscle.
It could be easy to forget about Makar seeing as he wont make his appearence until late this season or early next but I can tell you he will be worth the wait. The Avs' have something in Makar and his first season in the NHL will be one to watch.