Bolt from the blueline: Avs rookie Makar off to flying start
DENVER (AP) — Cale Makar is on the move these days — into his own place and into hallowed hockey territory.
He’s just getting settled in, too.
The Colorado Avalanche rookie became only the fourth defenseman in NHL history to record 18 points through his first 18 career regular-season games. His teammates maintain that’s due to his ability to see the ice with a veteran’s vision and rarely making the same mistake twice.
His own appraisal is much more subdued.
“I still feel like a rookie,” said Makar, who moved out of teammate Matt Calvert’s house this year to achieve another level of independence. “I still have lots to learn.”
Those are precisely the words fellow defenseman Ian Cole wants to hear from the 21-year-old who was drafted with the fourth overall pick in 2017 and received his first taste of NHL action last spring in the playoffs.
“But what’s he going to say? ‘Man, am I good!’” Cole cracked.
The numbers and early accolades do tend to suggest that, though. Makar was named the third star by the league for the week ending Nov. 10.
On Tuesday night, he scored his fifth goal of the season in a 4-0 win at Winnipeg. It was a game in which goaltender Adam Werner stepped in after starter Pavel Francouz was hurt after 31 seconds. All Werner did was turn in a 40-save shutout in his unexpected NHL debut.
It could be another injury for the Avalanche to weather in what’s already been a banged-up season. They’re currently without captain Gabriel Landeskog, forward Mikko Rantanen, goaltender Philipp Grubauer, forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and defenseman Nikita Zadorov.
“It’s tough,” said Makar, who has 13 assists this season. “At the end of the day, we have so much depth.”
Makar has given Colorado a big scoring boost.
A notable stat: The last rookie defenseman with more points than Makar through their first 18 regular-season games was Hall of Famer Larry Murphy, who had 19 for Los Angeles in 1980-81. The two other NHL blueliners with more points through 18 games were Hall of Famers Hap Day (21 points with the Toronto St. Patricks in 1924-25) and Harry Cameron (20 with the Toronto Arenas in 1917-18), according to research from NHL Stats.
Another noteworthy stat: Makar’s nine assists in October set an Avalanche record for a rookie defenseman in a month.
And another: His five straight games with at least a point to kick off the season matched the Avalanche record (since 1995-96) for the longest stretch to begin a career.
“He’s a guy that’s just so naturally talented,” Cole said. “His maturity level is well beyond his years. He’s very analytical in the sense that when he sees something, we can talk through something and you can almost see him learning. He can catalog that.
“If I’m right in that assessment, he’s going to be very, very good very quickly and for a very long time.”
Last April, Makar signed an entry contract with Colorado after his Frozen Four run with UMass came to an end (he won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top NCAA hockey player).
His first contest in an Avs sweater was Game 3 against the Western Conference’s top seed, Calgary. He made an immediate impact by becoming the first defenseman in league history to score a goal while making his NHL debut in the playoffs. Makar ended up with one goal and five assists in the postseason.
That jumpstarted his career. But it doesn’t lessen his learning curve, he maintained, through his first regular season.
“It’s just adjusting — whether it’s to the lifestyle or just the game schedule. Everything is different here,” said Makar, whose new place is within walking distance of most of his teammates. “You have a lot more free time. It’s filling those times with useful stuff that’s going to help you. ... It’s your job to worry about this.”
A little bit ago, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar sat down with his young defenseman after not seeing quite the same version of Makar he saw in the playoffs. They went over a few things — using his skating to work his way out of tough situations inside the “D” zone and taking off if he sees openings in the neutral zone.
No need to tell him twice.
“He’s really implemented it in his game, and really bounced back in a hurry,” Bednar said. “I feel really comfortable with where his game’s at.”
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