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Consistency Still Key For Makar After Stellar First Month

Defenseman is tied for the NHL's rookie scoring lead after October

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

Cale Makar's first month of regular season NHL hockey has come to an end, and it was a successful one from a statistical standpoint.

He's recorded one goal and nine assists while playing in all 12 games, including posting points in each of the first five outings of the year to become only the fifth defenseman in NHL history to begin a career with a point streak of five or more games.

His nine assists set a new Avalanche record (since 1995-96) for the most by a first-year defenseman in any month, with only two other blueliners in franchise history having registered more helpers in a month during their rookie season: Jeff Brown (10, November 1986) and Pierre Lacroix (11, March 1980).

Makar probably should have won October's rookie of the month honor as his 10 points were the highest ever by an Avs rookie D-man in the 10th month of the year and the third-highest in any month. Only John-Michael Liles (March 2004) and Kevin Shattenkirk (November 2010) have had better showings with 11 points each.

He's had a pretty darn good entry into the NHL, as he is tied for the scoring lead among all rookie players heading into November. Still, Makar said he can be better.

"I think it went all right. Just consistency wise, I started to figure it out near the end and stuff," Makar said. "It's just doing that every night and trying to play my game."

Video: Cale Makar ahead of Colorado's game against the Stars

Of course, Makar had a bit of a head start to the season. He played in 10 Stanley Cup Playoff games last year for Colorado and led all rookie defensemen in playoff scoring with six points (one goal, five assists).

However, the Calgary, Alberta, native is still trying to find his way in the grind of an 82-game season.

"I don't know if accelerating my growth is the right word, I think just being comfortable in more situations with guys," Makar said of his playoff experience. "I think it would give anybody a leg up if they had the opportunity to kind of jump in and do that.

"I still feel like a rookie. I still have lots to learn and still feel new to the league. It's just getting comfortable every game and try and progress."

Head coach Jared Bednar agreed with Makar's self-reflection after Friday's morning skate. Colorado's bench boss said he and the other coaches talked with the 21-year-old in the middle of the month after seeing a bit of a dip in his game, and Makar quickly responded and put into action the aspects of the game that were discussed.

"We sat down, went over a few things, and he's really implemented it in his game and has really bounced back in a hurry here," Bednar said. "I've really liked his last couple games, he's been skating, using his legs as a solution to get out of the D-zone. In the neutral zone, when he sees ice, he's taking it."

Makar can also learn a lot from other young rear guards who have been in similar situations before, and he doesn't have to look any further than across the ice on Friday night with the Dallas Stars' Miro Heiskanen, who was selected one spot ahead of him in the 2017 NHL Draft at No. 3 overall.

In his first NHL campaign last season, Heiskanen recorded 12 goals and 21 assists in 82 games and was also named to the NHL All-Star Game. The now 20-year-old finished fourth in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's rookie of the year.

"He's obviously an unbelievable player," Makar said of Heiskanen. "It was a lot of fun to watch him when I was in college last year. I tried to watch as much as I could. He's an unbelievable skater and an even better puck mover."

Friday's matchup is the second-ever meeting between Makar and Heiskanen and the first in the NHL. The two squared off once before at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, with Makar's Team Canada defeating Heiskanen and Team Finland 4-2 in the first game of the preliminary round. Canada went on to win the gold medal at the under-20 tournament.

After the World Juniors, Makar continued to develop his game. He finished his freshman season at the University of Massachusetts with 21 points (five goals, six assist) and went on to win the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's top player the following year after increasing his point total to 49 (16 goals, 33 assists).

Makar probably was as consistent as he could have been during that sophomore season, as he never went more than two games without registering a point. He seemed to figure out how to have success at the NCAA level and helped the Minutemen to the national championship game.

The D-man now might be starting to figure out what he needs to do to thrive in the NHL. While the Avs haven't picked up a victory in their previous two games, Makar's play has stood out for Bednar.

"I think you've seen a few plays here where he's flown by the whole team here and has created some scoring chances," Bednar said. "But also the physicality and urgency to defend down low has been much better over the last couple games. I feel really comfortable with where his game is at over the last couple games, and he's just going to continue to build on that."

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