After missing eight games, rookie Cale Makar has recovered from the first injury of his professional career and is ready to return to the lineup.
The Colorado Avalanche defenseman led all rookies and ranked second among NHL defensemen in scoring with 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists) in 29 games when he sustained his injury in the third period of the Avalanche's outing at the Boston Bruins on Dec. 7. His 28 points still rank second among first-year players so far this season.
"As good as I can be, just a long time to be out," Makar said after the Avs' morning skate when asked how he was feeling. "It will be another adjustment just coming back, but I am excited to be back.
"Obviously you never want to be injured, but at the same time it is what it is and these things take time. You just kind of got to prepare yourself for whatever comes your way, and I am just excited to be back now."
Although tonight's division rivalry contest against the Minnesota Wild will be his first taste of game action since the injury, Makar did not miss much ice time as he could continue to skate through his rehab due to his ailment being to his upper body.
"It is going to happen. Everybody goes through this at some point, so hopefully you can limit this to the least amount of time as possible throughout the year," Makar said of the injury. "It is good that it happened this early on, just something that I will need to be able to manage all the way.
"It is a little bit weird obviously for me missing that many games in such a short period of time. Honestly, I just think you just try and stay in the game, it's not like I was off the ice every day, I was still on the ice. You just try and keep up with the pace, but no its going to be another adjustment, just kind of get used to it."
Video: Cale Makar returns to the lineup
He was initially listed as day-to-day, but the Avalanche staff wanted to make sure that the fourth overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft had enough time to fully recover and come back in the best health possible.
Makar has been skating on his own since Dec. 10, three days after he got hurt. He joined his teammates as a non-contact participant last Saturday and first donned a regular practice jersey before the Avalanche's game at the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.
"The thing is with the timing of his injury, and took a little bit longer than we thought to get him back, but we wanted him to be back healthy and feeling confident in his shoulder and his body and making sure he can play the way he has to play to help us win," said head coach Jared Bednar. "We didn't want to rush him back, especially with the Christmas break. He probably could have played in Vegas but with the additional [three] days off after that I think it was a good decision to leave him out and make sure he is fully healthy, so he is ready to have a big second half for us."
A week before he was injured, Makar was named the league's Rookie of the Month for November after he produced 16 points (seven goals, nine assists), the most by a rookie blueliner in any month since Alexei Zhitnik registered 19 in March 1993 with the Los Angeles Kings.
"He does a lot of things for us. The obvious is he runs that first power play, and he has done a real nice job there. I feel like he was just kind of growing into that role, becoming a more dangerous shooting option himself," said Bednar. "Maybe early in the year deferring to some of the other guys on the ice, but shortly before he got hurt he was shooting the puck more, he was capitalizing on some of his opportunities and opening up some ice for other people. So real good recognition there on when to shoot when to distribute the puck.
"He is a very elusive guy, obviously his skating helps him with that, but just making real good decisions with the puck and getting us in and out of the zone and then the same thing in transition, getting us playing on the right half of the rink."
Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar on his team's defense
Makar will be on a pairing with fellow 21-year-old Samuel Girard, a duo of offensive defenseman that Bednar utilized in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and during this year's training camp.
"I have liked them together. We had them together at the end of last year, we had them together at the start of this year, I have liked them at times together," said Colorado's bench boss. "There's benefits to it, there may be some drawbacks to it depending on the night. So it just depends on who we are playing and how the matchups go and exactly what we want to try and do and also how all the other guys are playing as well."
FRANKIE IN NET
Pavel Francouz will be between the pipes tonight, making his 15th start of the season for Colorado.
He has a 2.03 goals-against average and .938 save percentage with a 9-0-1 record in his last 12 games, the longest point streak by an Avalanche netminder since Semyon Varlamov (16) in 2013-14. Francouz ranks second in the NHL in save percentage (.932) and is fourth goals-against average (2.22). He also owns the best winning percentage (.821, 11-2-1) in the league.
The Avs are playing back-to-back games for the seventh time this season, as they will travel after the matchup to play at the Dallas Stars on Saturday.
Colorado is 5-1-0 in the first outing when playing on consecutive days and 3-3-0 in the second. The Avalanche has swept three of its back-to-backs this season, split two and got swept in one.
The Avs are 10-3-1 in their last 14 games, which included a season-best nine-game point streak (8-0-1) from Nov. 27 to Dec. 13. They are also 15-6-1 in their last 22 and 7-3-1 in December.