Serious question: Should we just go ahead and give the Calder Memorial Trophy to Cale Makar already?
The Colorado Avalanche rookie has been simply spectacular through the first quarter of his first NHL campaign, starting 2019-20 with a five-game point streak and writing his name on the scoresheet in all but five games this season so far.
Not that we didn’t see it coming. The groundwork was laid for Makar to take the league by storm even before he took his first NHL strides last spring. The fourth-overall pick from 2017 and the top defensive prospect in Colorado’s pipeline won the Hobey Baker Award last April as college hockey’s top player and then jumped right into the Stanley Cup Playoffs without even missing a beat after taking the University of Massachusetts all the way to the NCAA national championship.
He scored in his very first NHL game — a first-round matchup against his hometown Calgary Flames — and finished his 10-game post-season stint with six points. It’s no wonder his name appeared on the more than a few pre-season Calder Trophy predictions, and will likely remain there as we check in throughout the year.
Makar, 21, has five goals to his name in 2019-20 and leads all rookies in assists (18) and points (23) through 21 games. He sits second in assists and third in overall points among defencemen league-wide, keeping pace with veterans like John Carlson and Dougie Hamilton.
Makar’s numbers have him skating into historic territory. His assist Tuesday night in Calgary set a new franchise record for most points from a rookie rearguard (13) in a single month — with 10 days still to go until the end of November — and he’s on pace for some serious history-making.
The NHL record for most points by a rookie defenceman belongs to Larry Murphy, who tallied 76 with the Los Angeles Kings in 1980-81. Makar is currently on pace for 90.
The kid from Calgary couldn’t have found a more perfect fit than on Colorado’s blue line, and his dynamic performance couldn’t have come at a better time. With stars Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen out with injuries, Makar’s steady presence — seriously, he has yet to even land himself in the penalty box — has been a major reason why the Avalanche have been able to continue to challenge for the top spot in an insanely tough Central Division.
Makar leads the team in assists and sits second in points behind Nathan MacKinnon, with whom he has had excellent chemistry. The rookie has set up seven of MacKinnon’s team-leading 13 goals — six of which came with the man-advantage, with Makar quarterbacking the first power-play unit.
Makar has also set up four of Nazem Kadri’s seven goals on the season.
The veterans might owe the rookie a beer for all those helpers — as of Oct. 30, he’s officially old enough to drink it.
Here’s a scary thought: Just think of what Makar and MacKinnon will do when Landeskog and Rantanen return.
Makar vs. Hughes
So you’re an NHL GM, and you’re starting a team from scratch. Which rookie rearguard are you building your blue line around: Makar or Quinn Hughes?
Over the weekend, we got to see the two sensational rookies go head-to-head, and it didn’t disappoint. The youngsters produced six helpers between the two of them, with Makar’s four assists helping the Avalanche claim the 5-4 overtime win against Hughes’ Vancouver Canucks.
Hughes, selected seventh overall in 2018, has a pair of goals and 12 assists for 14 points through 21 games so far, putting him fourth in overall rookie scoring and second among rookie defenders behind Makar.
His presence has greatly bolstered the Canucks’ blue line and has fans eying the possibility of a second straight Calder win after forward Elias Pettersson — the fifth-overall pick behind Makar in 2017 — won it last year. (Back-to-back Canucks Calders? Now that’s how you do a rebuild.)
What a treat to watch two of the best young blue liners begin their careers with so much success. We’ll have to wait until March to see them meet on the ice again, but something tells us it will be worth the wait. Just think of the Calder — and maybe playoff! — implications that could be involved.
Necas stars in November
Defenders are the early stars of this year’s rookie class, but we cannot overlook the impact made by forward Martin Necas. The Carolina Hurricanes rookie, another product of the first round of that strong 2017 class, has been excellent all season so far but has especially shone in the month of November.
After tallying six points in October with the red-hot Hurricanes, Necas has registered nine in November so far, with a point in all but one game this month thanks to a pair of four-game point streaks. He now sits second in the rookie scoring race and shows no signs of slowing down on a fast, fun, Hurricanes squad.
Frost thrives in Florida
One more rookie note, because there’s not much better than scoring your first NHL goal in your first NHL game, like Philadelphia’s Morgan Frost — another 2017 first-rounder! — did Tuesday night.
Welcome to the NHL, Frost.