ColoradoAvalanche.com is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago on June 23-24. Cale Makar is the No. 9-ranked North American skater in the NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. The Avalanche has the fourth overall selection at the draft.
Tyson Jost is proof that a player doesn't need to play major-junior hockey in Canada to get drafted and break into the NHL.
The Colorado Avalanche forward instead chose to play Junior A with the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League, keeping his eligibility for the NCAA. Jost played at the University of North Dakota last season before making the decision to turn pro and sign with the Avs in March.
Jost isn't alone in that department of Canadian players that chose leagues other than the ones under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella. Other current NHLers who have gone that route include Andrew Cogliano (Anaheim Ducks), Kyle Turris (Ottawa Senators), Travis Zajac (New Jersey Devils) and the Avalanche's own Joe Colborne--further proof that if you're a good player, you will eventually be found by scouts.
Cale Makar, a 2017 draft-eligible defenseman, is another one of those Junior-A players that could one day make a name for himself in the NHL after an outstanding 2016-17 season with the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Makar, 18, is ranked ninth among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's final list, which was released in early April, but he seems to be climbing draft boards as the league's annual summer selection gets closer.
"Cale Makar is probably one of the surprises of the draft," said Avalanche director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple. "A very good skater, a very good puck-mover. Very good puck management. Offensive upside with a great shot, great vision, and he's making lots of waves."
Video: Altitude profiles Cale Makar
The Calgary, Alberta, native is that mobile-type defenseman that nearly every team seeks. He can push the play up the ice with his speed, passing ability and hockey sense, all keys to having offensive and defensive success in today's NHL.
Blueliners like Erik Karlsson, P.K. Subban, Kris Letang and Colorado's Tyson Barrie come to mind when thinking of that type of player. Even teams that already have one on their roster would sure love to have another, if not more.
Makar said he has heard of the comparisons between his game and that of Karlsson--the 15th pick in the 2008 draft--and is honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as the two-time Norris Trophy winner.
"It is pretty special," Makar said of being likened to Karlsson during a post-Scouting Combine media scrum with reporters in Buffalo on June 3. "To get compared to a guy of that caliber, now that he's been solidified as one of the top D-men in the NHL, it's pretty humbling."
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound rear guard is coming off his second full season with the Bandits, where he helped the club to their second-straight league championship. Makar recorded five goals and 11 assists in 13 postseason contests to earn playoff MVP honors, adding to his collection that already included being named the league's regular-season most valuable player and most outstanding defenseman after recording 75 points (24 goals and 51 assists) in 54 contests.
He was named the AJHL's rookie of the year in 2015-16 after putting together a 55-point performance (10 goals and 45 assists) in 54 games for Brooks. He had 14 playoff points (three goals and 11 assists) in 13 outings to grab his first league title and had seven points (four goals and three assists) in five RBC Cup games (Canadian Junior A championship), where he was named MVP, Top Defenseman and Top Scorer of the tournament.
His playmaking abilities were also on full display at the World Junior-A Challenge the past two seasons. The D-man teamed up with Jost, who was the squad's captain, to help Canada West (U19) win the gold medal in 2015 before taking over the 'C' the following year. He finished the 2016 tournament with four goals and four assists in four contests to earn his second-straight All-Star Team honor.
"It's [Makar's] hands and how well he can pass and handle the puck at that speed that really catches your eye," said NHL Central Scouting's John Williams to NHL.com. "He moves it with great vision and good lateral mobility, which is so important in today's game. It's not just straight-ahead speed, it's being able to create time and space in small areas and he does that exceptionally well."
Makar is a high-risk, high-reward player in this year's draft class. He appears worthy of being a top-10 pick, but he hasn't faced the same top competition as other highly-touted draft prospects that play in the CHL or NCAA and frequent international tournaments with their home countries.
On the ice, offensive defensemen like Makar sometimes get a bad rap for not being as strong on the defensive part of the game. Being solid in his own zone is an area that Makar recognizes as his primary job as a member of any club's D-corps.
"I think I'm fairly high-risk at certain times in terms of jumping into the play," Makar said in an interview with NHL.com at the combine. "Obviously my responsibility is to be back because, as a defenseman, I need to be. There may be opportunities for me to jump into the rush, and there could be more, but I think there are certain times to take risks and other times you need to kind of stay back."
Video: Alan Hepple discusses Cale Makar
Like Jost did, Makar is going the college route to help further his growth as a player. He is committed to play next season at the University of Massachusetts in the always-tough Hockey East Conference.
"I believe college is the right route for me in terms of development," Makar said. "That's where I stand on that issue. The development path is similar to the AJHL where you play less games, but have more time to work on off-ice stuff in terms of reaching your physical ability and gaining greater strength."
On the first night of the NHL Draft on June 23 at United Center, Makar can also make a little history by being the highest-drafted player ever from the Alberta league. Presently, that accolade is bestowed on Colborne (Camrose Kodiaks), who was chosen No. 16 overall by the Boston Bruins in 2008.
Makar has said that he doesn't care where he gets picked, and that he just wants to keep improving as a player. He's already done that, according to Williams.
"The thing with him, and what we're looking for, is guys that get better," Williams said. "Every time you see him, his game is progressing. His game is moving in the right direction.
"He's getting better every game."
If he continues this trajectory, he might become the surprise of the draft.