Cale Makar quickly jumped from college hockey to the NHL during the 2019 postseason, and he has shown that he has adapted his game through the first half of his rookie season.
With his University of Massachusetts teammates in the Pepsi Center stands, the Colorado Avalanche defenseman showed how he has adapted his play to the NHL level by recording two points (one goal, one assist) and helping the Avs earn a 7-3 victory against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.
"I didn't get to see them at all, but it's very special to have them here," said Makar. "I love all those guys, I keep in touch with basically all of them. I don't want to reminisce in the past, but it was an awesome time we had there and hopefully I will get to see them tonight.
"It's pretty awesome that they were able to come, that's for sure."
Makar spent the last two seasons with the Minutemen, who were in the Mile High City for games at the University of Denver on Friday and Saturday. In addition to leading UMass to its first-ever Frozen Four, he also helped the team to its first No. 1 ranking in program history, set program records in wins and conference wins, and captured the team's first-ever Hockey East regular-season championship.
Video: Cale Makar after the win vs. the Blues
In his sophomore season, he led the Hockey East and ranked first nationally among all NCAA defensemen with 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) and was named the winner of the 2019 Hobey Baker Award, becoming the first player in school history to win college hockey's top individual prize.
"We had great coaches there and obviously a great group of guys, and when you are playing with good players everybody looks good," said Makar. "So, we had a really good systematically I guess game, and it made everybody look good."
His tally versus the Blues was the eventual game-winner and came on the power play with 16 seconds remaining in the middle frame. It was Makar's fourth game-deciding goal, which leads all rookies this season. It was also his ninth marker of the year, one shy of tying the single-season franchise record for goals by a rookie defenseman (10, John-Michael Liles in 2003-04).
Video: STL@COL: Makar wrists home power-play goal
"Unreal screen by Mikko in front of the net, and I was able to just put it through the guy that was in front of me and luckily it went in," Makar said of his marker.
The Calgary, Alberta, native now has 31 points this season, surpassing Pierre Lacroix (30 points) for fourth place in franchise history in scoring by a rookie defenseman. Makar's 31 points are the second most by a first-year blueliner since the team moved to Denver, two shy of Liles' record of 34 during the 2003-04 season.
Makar is the first defenseman to record his first 30 career regular-season points in 33 contests or fewer since Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom in 1991-92 (33 games), and the eighth in NHL history to do so.
Video: STL@COL: Rantanen one-times Makar feed for PPG
"I thought he was good tonight No. 1. Maybe had a couple miscues with the puck, but he was dangerous in the areas where we wanted to see him," head coach Jared Bednar said of the rookie. "If I break down his season, slow start, probably putting a little too much pressure on himself. A little off balance trying to do too much in areas where he should just be simple, not doing enough in areas where we felt like he could do more. There were some meetings, and he grabbed it right away and his game came around.
"I think we saw some excellent play before he got hurt, now he has already faced some adversity in his pro career. It is the first time he has ever been hurt, lasted longer than what he wanted, I think there was some frustration there. I think coming out of that injury we saw what we saw at the start of the year, trying to pick up where he left off, trying to do too much when he shouldn't, not doing enough in areas where he should help more and then now he is starting to build it back.
Despite missing eight games with an upper-body injury that he sustained on Dec. 7, Makar ranks second among all first-year players and tied for seventh among all defensemen in the league with 31 points. So far this year, he has averaged 0.94 points per game in 20:28 of ice time, a number that Colorado's bench boss foresees will increase as he continues to acclimate tto the NHL.
"I expect that we are going to see real good play here from Cale going down the stretch," said Bednar. "He is an important piece to our lineup, and he just keeps getting better and better. I think where he is going to grow is we get him to a point where he keeps maturing and getting in better condition, not that he is not a well-conditioned athlete. He grows into a man, and we get him into the area where we start playing him more and more and get him up in the high 20's. He can help us that way more instead of just being right around the 20-minute mark or 21 or 22, whatever it is."
Video: Coach Jared Bednar after the Avs win vs. the Blues
Nathan MacKinnon (two goals, two assists) and Samuel Girard (four assists) each registered four points in the victory.
For Girard, he tied a single-game franchise record for assists by a defenseman. It was the first four-point outing of his career, setting a new single-game career high in both assists and points. He also had two points in Colorado's previous game on Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets, marking the first time in his NHL tenure that he's recorded back-to-back, multi-point performances.
Video: STL@COL: Kadri one-times home second goal
It was the fourth time this season that MacKinnon has collected four points in a contest. He now has 62 points (25 goals, 37 assists) this season, surpassing the 60-point mark for the fourth time in his career. The only other Avs to have reached 60 points in four or more campaigns are Joe Sakic (10 times), Peter Forsberg (six), Milan Hejduk (five), Paul Stastny (four) and Alex Tanguay (four).
MacKinnon's 62 points equal the most by a Colorado player at the team's halfway points of the season (41 games), tying Mikko Rantanen's 62 points from last season.
Video: STL@COL: MacKinnon beats Binnington on breakaway
TRIO OF POWER-PLAY GOALS
The Avs finished 3-for-5 on the power play, the second straight game they have tallied multiple goals with the man advantage and the first time since Jan. 4, 2019 versus the New York Rangers that they have scored three power-play goals.
Colorado is 5-for-9 (55.6 percent) on the power play in its last two outings and 7-for-20 (35.0 percent) over its last five contests.
MORE AVALANCHE NOTES
The Avs finished with 42 shots on goal, the fourth straight game Colorado has put up 40-plus shots. It's the first time in franchise history that the Avalanche has recorded 40 or more shots in four-straight contests. The club previously did it in three consecutive outings on two occasions: Jan. 28-Feb.2, 2006 and Jan. 31-Feb. 3, 1996.
The game marked the fourth time this season that Colorado has scored seven or more goals in an outing, tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second most contests with seven or more goals for. Only the Pittsburgh Penguins have scored seven goals in more games (five) this season.
The Avalanche picked up its 24th win of the season and now has 52 points in the 2019-20 campaign, matching its sixth-most points and third-most wins at the midway point of the season.
Nazem Kadri has recorded two straight multi-point games and has four points (three goals, one assist) in his last two outings. He has three multi-goal performances this season, tied for the most on the team (Nathan MacKinnon, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Calvert).
Joonas Donskoi tallied his 14th goal of the season to equal his career high he's reached in each of the last two seasons.
Colorado's 22 shots in the second period is a season high for shots in a period and its most in a single frame since Dec. 31, 2017 versus the New York Islanders (23 shots, 2nd period).