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NHL Draft

2017 Draft: Cale Makar rapidly gaining attention

Brooks defenseman has risen up prospect ranking since strong World Junior A Challenge

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

Every Thursday, will look ahead to the 2017 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

Defenseman Cale Makar of Brooks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League can already imagine himself walking across the stage during the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft and pulling on the jersey of the team that calls his name at United Center in Chicago on June 23.

Chances are he didn't picture that nine months ago. It's been quite a ride for the 18-year-old.

"I think it was a goal of mine to get to this point, but obviously you never know what's going to happen," Makar said. "It's a lot of contact from teams. There's lots of meetings. It's intriguing about how that all comes about. Overall it's been a whirlwind.

"It's been pretty cool to be here."

Makar a 5-foot-10, 179-pound right-shot defenseman, is No. 10 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking in part because of his play for Canada West in the 2016 World Junior A Challenge.

He was a B-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list in October and November, but he was team captain and had eight points (four goals, four assists) in four games, including a five-point game (two goals, three assists) in a 6-2 defeat of Switzerland, at the tournament, which was held in Bonnyville, Alberta from Dec. 11-17.

"A lot of times these guys will start out low and their play will dictate how high they rise up," said John Williams of NHL Central Scouting. "We really wanted to see how he did against elite competition. We knew he was a good player in the AJHL. We wanted to see him against the best in that tournament against the best players.

"He was a cut above. He was by far one of the best players there, for sure."

Makar is the second-highest ranked North American defenseman after Juuso Valimaki (No. 9) of Tri-City of the Western Hockey League.

"It was pretty cool," said Makar, who is committed to the University of Massachusetts next season. Medicine Hat, which chose him in the eighth round (No. 164) of the WHL Bantam Draft, owns his WHL rights. "To get recognition at that tournament was awesome. It was really special. It helped my stock.

"But you want to keep yourself grounded at the same time. It's definitely cool to hear those things but at the same time you want to stay humble. It's not that hard to keep a level head or stay humble. I think that's one of my major traits as a kid.

"I don't think I take anything for granted."

Makar continued his strong play when he returned to the AJHL. He led the league's defensemen with 75 points (24 goals, 51 assists) in 54 games, and was named the most valuable player and most outstanding defenseman in the league.

Makar helped Brooks finish with the best record in the AJHL (51-5-4), and he had six points (two goals, four assists) in a four-game sweep of the best-of-7 South Division semifinal against Olds. They play second-seeded Okotoks in the South Division Final, which starts March 31

"The thing with him, and what we're looking for, is guys that get better," Williams said. "Every time you see him his game is progressing. His game is moving in the right direction.

"He's getting better every game."

Despite the attention his success has brought, Makar's approach to the game hasn't changed.

"That's been the most impressive part," Brooks coach and general manager Ryan Papaioannou said. "I don't know that we were ready to help him through the process yet. We thought it was going to take a lot of help. He's been calm and cool through the whole thing. He loves the game. It hasn't affected him in any way.

"If anything he's been better."

Makar could be the highest player drafted from the AJHL. Colorado Avalanche forward Joe Colborne, selected No. 16 by the Boston Bruins in the 2008 draft, holds that distinction.

Makar said he isn't concerned about that, though. It's what comes after that matters.

"I think it would definitely be special to get my name called on that day," he said. "It's been a goal of mine since I've been little to be an NHL player. It's going to be pretty cool if you're going to get your name called on that day.

"But it doesn't matter when you get called in the draft. It's what you do after. It's all about how hard you work after and what you become as a player."

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