Cale Makar is everything the modern NHL defenceman should be

Kyle CantlonNHL Editor
Yahoo Sports Canada

Do yourself a favour the next time you watch Cale Makar play hockey: just watch. Don’t overthink it, don’t resist it — just be.

Savour every stride. Soak in every perfectly placed no-look feed. Guzzle down each picturesque zone entry and exit. Embrace the possession prowess. Marvel at his quality shot selection and ability to find even the smallest open spaces in high-danger scoring areas. Immerse yourself in Makar’s hockey IQ, his decision making, his off-the-puck intelligence. Be fully in tune with everything that is the experience of watching the 21-year-old ply his craft at the highest level because phenoms like this just don’t come around very often.

Look for Cale Makar to emerge over the next couple seasons as the NHL's premier defenceman. (Getty)
Look for Cale Makar to emerge over the next couple seasons as the NHL's premier defenceman. (Getty)
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Makar isn’t revolutionizing how modern defencemen play the position, but he very well could end up being, when all is said and done, the player who comes closest to perfecting it.

Every detail of Makar’s game, from the glaringly obvious to the obscure, is polished and built for today’s NHL. If you were to attempt to create a modern defenceman in a lab from scratch, you would hope something similar to Makar emerges from the slime in your petri dish. It’s so early in this dude’s career and obviously risky to put such a label on a player with less than 40 NHL regular season and playoff games under his belt, but what he’s doing from a skills, eye-test and numbers standpoint has been so glaringly impressive that it’s nearly impossible not to fall head-over-heels for his game.

I mean, this shot — absolute perfection:

Very few players have the ability to shift a team’s entire four-man penalty kill unit just by shifting their eyes and looking them off. He has the sense to recognize the exact moment to stop playing catch with Nathan MacKinnon and pull the trigger on the shot. He gets his shoulders and hips adjusted and squared to his target insanely quickly, finds a clear shooting lane through the chaos, and executes the most perfect shot you’ll find.

The poise, intelligence and confidence with the puck are all on display, and his ability to shift his body positioning and shot angle on a whim and at full speed allows him to increase the quality of his scoring opportunities tenfold by turning a low-danger chance into a high-danger shot, and with ease.

Watch how Makar walks in from the side boards, appears to be ready to shoot from the faceoff dot, but quickly and seamlessly drags the puck to the hash marks to generate a real high-quality look and subsequent goal.

That shooting ability is rare, and even more so for a defenceman to boast said ability. It’s even rarer (basically non-existent) for a 21-year-old D-man with 27 NHL games to his name. Remarkable, especially considering that shooting isn’t even Makar’s best or most important skill, nor is it the key pillar to his game. That would be the skating.

Makar possesses some of the most effortless and fluid skating skills I’ve personally ever seen, and that ability to maintain his balance, posture and speed while edging, crossing and transitioning from forwards to backwards with and without the puck has allowed him to transition from Jr. A to college to the NHL so seamlessly, and it’s without a doubt the catalyst of everything he does on the ice. You can’t build a luxury mansion without pouring a finely-detailed foundation, and Makar’s is as finely-tuned and well-built as they come.

You can pull almost any clip of Makar wheeling around the rink and be in total awe of his ability, but this one from his college days at UMass stands out as it perfectly epitomizes how his skating can single-handedly impact his team’s scoring chances and shot quality, creating something offensive out of thin air whenever he wants to flip on the switch.

So elusive, so strong, so everything. He’s one of those rare athletes where the eye-test really does tell the whole story, but the numbers and accolades just so happen to be there, too.

The NHL’s rookie of the month for November has put himself head and shoulders above his fellow freshmen in the Calder race after winning the Hobey Baker as the best player in college hockey, as sophomores rarely do, last spring. He made an immediate impact in the most intense athletic atmosphere a 20-year-old could be thrust into, excelling as a key part of Colorado’s blue line for two rounds after joining the big club for the Stanley Cup Playoffs following his Hobey-winning college campaign.

His elite play carried right over to this season almost as seamlessly as his skating, busting out of the gate on an 82-point, 25-goal pace through the first third of the 2019-20 campaign. He leads all rookies (including forwards) in total and 5v5 points, sits first in game-winning tallies, second in rookie goal-scoring and power-play points, and first in points-per-game.

When Makar is on the ice in all situations, the Avalanche are clipping at 57% possession, 60% expected goals and 57% shot share.

And it’s not just rookies — Makar’s holding his own among the best veteran blueliners in the game, too. He sits in the top five among all NHL defencemen in total goals, points, and points-per-game.

His 5v5 possession numbers and defensive stats are decent — pretty average in most key areas — but he’s far from a liability in his own end. His straight-line speed, next-level anticipation ability, smarts, and stick savviness all play a role in making sure his high-tempo offensive style doesn’t in any way hinder his job on the defensive side of the puck. When you’re getting this much offence and production out of a blueliner like Makar, you’ll take the odd bonehead play in your own end simply because it’s worth it.

But Makar doesn’t even seem to make the glaring mistakes that an Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns were susceptible to every once in a while during their recent powerhouse offensive seasons. It’s actually pretty incredible how little Makar’s offensive mindset negatively impacts his positioning and defensive play, and this is, again, with fewer than 40 NHL games under his belt.

The Avalanche have themselves an absolute gem here, and you certainly don’t need me to tell you that — just watch and enjoy the show.

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