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Rookie Rewind: Cale Makar

The defenseman made his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Andy Vernier /

Cale Makar's entry into the National Hockey League was unlike most. He made his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and in his first game Makar scored his first NHL goal, the eventual game-winning tally in a 6-2 victory over the Calgary Flames.

"It's a cool moment. You've been working your whole life for this. It was pretty exciting," Makar said of making his debut in the NHL. "The nerves went away after the first period, it was fun."

Video: Cale Makar after his first morning skate with the Avs

Prior to his first taste of the NHL, Makar was selected by the Colorado Avalanche as the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and spent the next two seasons with the University of Massachusetts. Through his two years of college hockey, Makar recorded 70 points (21 goals, 49 assists) in 75 outings and helped the Minutemen reach the NCAA Frozen Four Championship Game in his second year. 

At the end of his sophomore season, only 72 hours prior to entering the NHL, Makar 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.

Nearly 24 hours after receiving the Hobey Baker Award, Makar competed in what was at the time the biggest game of his hockey career as UMass faced the University of Minnesota Duluth in the NCAA National Championship in Buffalo, New York. 

Makar inked his first NHL contract shortly after the contest and began making the trek to the Rocky Mountains to open his professional career on the biggest stage the NHL has to offer with the Avalanche getting set for Game 3 of its first-round series with the Flames.

"It's been pretty crazy, I was supposed to fly out of Buffalo yesterday, but ended up getting re-routed to Toronto," Makar said in his first interaction with the Denver media after inking his pro deal. "So it's been a long travel day but I'm rested up."

After a whirlwind 72 hours, his new head coach, Jared Bednar, had to decide if he thought Makar was ready to make the jump and be an impact player for the Avs during their first-round series with Calgary. Colorado was in a tight matchup with the Flames as the series was tied 1-1 at the time. 

"I thought through it for sure, it's a big time of year, it's a big decision," Bednar said on putting Makar into the lineup for Game 3 of the series prior to the outing. "What makes the decision easier is the type of player he is, the type of person he is, and the type of year he had in college, so he's the type of guy we want to get in the lineup and see if he can help us, and tonight's the perfect opportunity."

Makar made his debut and made an immediate impact, scoring his first NHL goal on his first shot in the opening period of Colorado's 6-2 victory at Pepsi Center to take the 2-1 series lead. The tally made him the first player in franchise history to score his first career goal while making his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and he is the seventh player--and only defenseman--in league history to do so.

Video: CGY@COL, Gm3: Makar scores in NHL debut 

Makar became only the fourth player in franchise history to make his NHL debut during the postseason, and the second since the team moved to Denver (also Joey Hishon in 2014).  

 "It was awesome," MacKinnon said of Makar's first NHL goal. "You can just tell his skill. He didn't just get it and shoot it or panic and give it back to me. He stopped it on his backhand, dropped his shoulder. I think he probably looked around to see if anyone was back door and then snapped it five-hole."

Video: Makar on scoring in his NHL debut in the playoffs 

The Calgary, Alberta, native went on to exceed expectations after being thrown into the toughest hockey of the year showing off his explosive speed and all-around talent.

During the first round of the playoffs against his hometown Calgary Flames, Makar recorded two points, coupling one goal and one assist in three games. His helper came in Colorado's series-clinching Game 5 victory, a contest in which Makar also registered a plus-2 rating in 19:26 of ice time. Having grown up a Flames fan, it was his first time as a member of the visiting team in a building he frequented in his youth. 

"It's going to be pretty cool. I haven't been on this ice since I was 12 years old," Makar said prior to Game 5. "It is going to be pretty special, but it's going to be fun fighting with this group. A lot of friends have reached out and told me who their alliance is. I know a lot of people are excited to come to the game today and watch in general."

Video: Makar before his first game at the Saddledome 

In Colorado's second-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks, the defenseman continued to show his offensive prowess and tallied five points (five assists).

Makar finished the playoffs with a total of six points (one goal, five assists) in his first 10 NHL games, while averaging 17:22 of ice time.

"He's been an elite player everywhere he's been, and now he gets here and it just doesn't seem like anything fazes him," Bednar said of Makar's play in the playoffs. 

With 10 Stanley Cup Playoff games under his belt, Makar will surely look to build off his impressive playoff performance as he plays his first regular-season games and enters his rookie season with the club.

Video: Cale Makar checks in at No. 3 on the list

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