Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar was named one of the three finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy on Wednesday. The former University of Massachusetts-Amherst defenseman is not the only nominee that played on the blueline in college a season ago.
Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes played at the University of Michigan in 2019 before signing with the Canucks, like Makar, after his sophomore season.
While the NHL often sees defenseman transition from junior hockey to the NHL on a more regular basis, the latest crop of defense, headlined by Makar, have come from college.
“There are pros and cons to both routes in the hockey world,” Makar said. “I think for Quinn and myself it was just the time that we needed to develop our bodies not only on the ice but off the ice as well.”
In 2019, Makar won the Hobey Baker Award for UMASS before turning pro and joining the Avalanche in the midst of a playoff run two days later. He scored in his first game, eventually adding five assists for six points in 10 appearances.
The rookie had little time to celebrate his individual collegiate accomplishment given to the top player in the NCAA because of his focus on winning the Stanley Cup — something that is likely to be repeated this summer as the Calder Trophy will be announced during the playoffs.
“I haven’t really thought of the comparison between this and the Hobey Baker,” he said. “They’re two completely different things, they honor two completely different people. For me, it was such a great group of rookies this year. So I think we’re all honored to be on this call right now.”
Makar, 21, was Colorado’s second-leading point producer in 2019, trailing Ted Lindsay Award nominee Nathan MacKinnon by 43 points. He recorded 12 goals and 50 points — both Avalanche rookie defenseman records.
Among the finalists, Makar has the highest points-per-game (0.88) as he appeared in just 57 of Colorado’s 70 games due to injury. He was second in rookie scoring behind Hughes (53). The pair of defensemen are likely to finish first and second in voting with the third nominee, Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik, in third.
While Hughes and Makar did not meet in College, their experiences in the NCAA have prepared them for outstanding careers in the NHL.
“I think College gives you an opportunity to play with older more mature guys,” Makar said. “My first year at UMASS was a big learning curve and I took that into my second year and developed into who I am today. That was a big backer for me in choosing college and why I went that way.”