To mark the first quarter of the season, NHL.com is running its second installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Calder Trophy, the annual award given to the player selected as the top rookie in the NHL as selected in a Professional Hockey Writers Association poll.
Cale Makar hasn't done anything as a rookie for the Colorado Avalanche that his former college coach Greg Carvel didn't already know at the University of Massachusetts.
"I'm not surprised," Carvel said. "Before I coached at the college level, I coached at the NHL level, and this kid has everything it takes to be a high-level defenseman in the NHL with his skating, his hands, his hockey sense and his compete level. He has as complete a package of any defenseman that I've ever worked with."
The 21-year-old is excelling at a position many consider the toughest to master at a young age and living up to Carvel's standards after playing two seasons (2017-19) at the Amherst-based school. He leads NHL rookies with 18 assists and 23 points, is tops among rookie defensemen with five goals and 38 shots on goal, and is averaging 19:28 of ice time in 21 games for the Avalanche.
Video: The NHL Tonight crew share their 1st quarter thoughts
Makar is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy after the first quarter of the season, according to a panel of 20 NHL.com writers. He received all 20 first-place votes and 100 points in the poll. Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes was second with 66 points, followed by Buffalo Sabres forward Victor Olofsson (57), Carolina Hurricanes forward Martin Necas (16) and New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (15).
Makar required the sixth-fewest games to reach 20 regular-season points among all players to debut with the Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques (Real Cloutier, 15; Peter Stastny, 16; Marian Stastny, 17; Joe Sakic, 17; Anton Stastny, 18). He's the first NHL defenseman to have at least 20 points in his first 20 games since Larry Murphy had 24 with the Los Angeles Kings in 1980-81.
"[Makar's] physicality and urgency to defend down low has improved," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "I feel really comfortable with where his game is at and he's just going to continue to build on that."
The No. 4 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft had 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) in 41 games as a sophomore last season when he won the 2019 Hobey Baker Award, presented annually to the top men's player in NCAA hockey.
"His skating talent is elite," Carvel said. "In the second half of last season, I was using the comparison in skating to Connor McDavid. I know it's a very aggressive compliment, but his skating ability was at a different level in college and it looks like he's at a different level in the NHL. I'm not the least bit surprised with whatever happens with him this year."
Carvel, in his fourth season at Massachusetts, also was an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks in 2003-04 and with the Ottawa Senators for seven seasons (2004-11). He worked with defensemen Zdeno Chara (2004-06), Erik Karlsson (2009-11) and Sergei Gonchar (2010-11) in Ottawa.
Video: COL@WPG: Makar scores in 1st period
He said one aspect of Makar's game that will improve and evolve over time is his physicality.
"He's a physical presence and as he gets older and stronger, I think that's going to start to become evident as well," he said. "In college, he could step up on kids and use that strength, and his is not weight room strength, it's hockey strength. He's not the strongest kid in the weight room, but on the ice, he's got that hockey strength.
"Winning a hockey battle in the corner is much different than squatting a barbell. It takes balance, it takes timing, it takes intuition and he just has this power very similar to his skating. When he needs power to go through another hockey player ... he has that."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Cale Makar, Avalanche, 100 points (20 first-place votes); Quinn Hughes, Canucks, 66 points; Victor Olofsson, Sabres, 57 points; Martin Necas, Hurricanes, 16 points; Jack Hughes, Devils, 15 points; Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers, 15 points; Ethan Bear, Edmonton Oilers, 11 points; Thatcher Demko, Canucks, 7 points; Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils, 5 points; Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs, 5 points; Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals, 1 point; Adam Fox, Rangers, 1 point; Kirby Dach, Chicago Blackhawks, 1 point.