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Loyalty Important For Makar

The Avalanche's 2017 first-round draft pick is heading to UMass next season

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

CHICAGO--There are a lot of qualities that NHL draft prospects possess.

Loyalty is one that was probably high on the Colorado Avalanche's list when it came to Cale Makar.

It's the reason why the defenseman is going to UMass next season before he exploded onto the amateur hockey scene the past two years. Loyalty helped him stay true to his Brooks Bandits teammates, helping win an Alberta Junior Hockey League championship, and become the highest drafted player in the league's history on Friday night.

After a day of anxiousness, excitement and nervousness, Makar's moment came early in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft as the Avalanche picked him fourth overall.

"My mind just went blank," Makar recalled of hearing Colorado executive vice president/general manager Joe Sakic announce his name. "I just got up and tried to remember how to hug my mom. I was just kind of hoping that I wouldn't fall down the steps walking to the stage. It's a cool experience."

The previous highest selected player from the AJHL was Avalanche forward Joe Colborne (Camrose Kodiaks), who went 16th overall to the Boston Bruins in 2008.

Makar crushed that selection by going 12 spots earlier and becoming the second straight Canadian Junior-A player that the Avs used their first pick on. Colorado chose Tyson Jost out of the British Columbia Hockey League in 2016 at 10th overall.

Video: Avalanche Draft D Cale Makar No. 4

Like Jost (University of North Dakota) and Colborne (University of Denver), Makar is going to play college hockey next year, dressing for the Minutemen in the tough Hockey East Conference.

"I thought the development off the ice would help me a lot better than playing however many games in major-junior," he said of playing in the NCAA.

"You're going to get the time off the ice, I'm going to get hopefully a little bit bigger, and … a little bit of time there is going to hopefully shape me into an NHL player."

He could have gone to another college as he committed early, just prior to his first full year in Brooks. That was before he went on to be named the AJHL Rookie of the Year after posting 55 points (10 goals and 45 assists) in 54 games in 2015-16 and prior to him scoring 75 points (24 goals and 51 assists) in 54 contests en route to league regular-season and playoff MVP honors last season.

The offers to play at larger, more prestigious hockey schools were coming in, but he had a good feeling about playing in Amherst and stuck with the university that believed in him from the beginning.

"At the time, I honestly didn't have those big, big options, but I had options from a few other schools, and it was just kind of the feeling that I had, the personal touch of UMass," he said. "I had been down to the campus, and I really liked it there. You know what you're going to get when I go there.

"[Loyalty is] a big trait. I've been taught to stay loyal and be humble since I was a little kid. It kind of runs in the family."

The feeling was mutual.

Makar was recruited by then UMass head coach John Micheletto, but when there was a coaching change, Makar was left wondering what his future would hold. It turned out, he didn't have to wait too long to get some reassurance.

"It never really wavered from my mind," he said. "[Greg] Carvel told me that I was his first call on his job, so that was a pretty special moment for me. Right than I knew they were going to be perfect for me."

A mobile defenseman, the Calgary, Alberta, native fits the mold of what Sakic and the Avalanche want to be: younger, faster and more skilled.

"We're excited to add Cale to our organization," said Avalanche director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple. "He's a very good skater, a very good puck-mover. Very good puck management. Offensive upside with a great shot and great vision."

Video: Avs prospect Cale Makar at the Draft

There has been talk in recent weeks that Makar could be the best player to come out of the draft, and that his skill has been compared to that of Ottawa Senators blueliner Erik Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy winner.

He's heard that comparison and the chatter of possibly becoming the best prospect of the 2017 class, but that hasn't fazed him. He knows that he hasn't accomplished anything yet with his career still just blossoming.

"The way I see this draft is that it is not going to matter where you get picked. People aren't going to look at that, they're going to look at what you did after the draft," he said. "No one is going to care what you did before. It's all about how you carry yourself afterward and where you're going to go."

What kind of player Makar will become in the next two, three or even 10 years has yet to be determined. One of the things that seems to be known is that he'll work hard to reward those who have faith in him.

That group now includes Colorado.

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