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Young and Relentless

The NHL has evolved into a faster and more agile league - young, smaller but highly mobile defensemen fit right into the trend

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ / NHLSeattle.com

Rookie blueliners on Pause

Makar, Hughes, Fox discuss NHL Pause

Rookie defensemen Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes and Adam Fox discuss what they've been up to during the NHL Pause

  • 33:38 •

On the last night of NHL play before the regular season was suspended, the New York Rangers visited the Colorado Avalanche. Rangers defenseman Adam Fox, 22, assisted on both goals scored by NYR scoring wonder-forward Mika Zibanejad, including a tying goal with 13 seconds left in the third period to send the game into overtime with a 2-2 score. 

Fox has eight goals and 34 assists for 42 points in 70 games played during his rookie season. Stellar offensive numbers for his rookie season, worthy of consideration for the NHL's Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.

Flip to the Avalanche side of the scoresheet. Apparently not to be outdone, Colorado rookie defenseman, 21, assisted on all three of the home team's goals, including a teammate's tip-in of Makar's pinpoint wrist shot for the overtime winner. Makar's playmaking as a defender is catching lots of attention from opponents and fans; he is sitting on 50 points (12 goals, 38 assists) in 57 games, losing some time in his official rookie year to injuries. He's certainly a clear-cut favorite to win the Calder award.

Or is he? Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes has 53 points in 68 games, including an eye-popping 45 assists to exhibit his own portfolio of playmaking for his Canucks teammates. Media members are hotly debating whether Makar or Hughes, 20, should win the Calder. 

The three young D-men joined NHL Senior Vice President John Dellapina on a recent Zoom video conference to talk about their three breakout seasons, canvassing any number of topics like the cover the ice-swift to the point, setting up each other, learning and improvising as they go.

Cases in point: Hughes and his brothers (Fox's NYR team Jack, 18, and a top prospect Luke, 16, for the 2021) posted a social media video of the trio while in-line skating. Hughes said he wanted to "make sure I didn't forget how to skate." Fox, who played his college hockey at Harvard, said after each NCAA season "they take out the ice" on campus, so he is accustomed to not skating for a month. Makar said he "saw the video of Quinn and his brothers, then I ordered my own [in-line] blades." 

Same as Fox, both Makar and Hughes took the American college hockey route-in this instance let's say fast track-rather than play juniors in leagues such as the Ontario Hockey League or Western Hockey League . Makar starred at the University of Massachusetts, leading his team to the NCAA championship game (losing to xx) and later in the same week joined Colorado during the NHL playoffs. He scored a goal 10 minutes into his first NHL period. "It's all a blur," Makar told Dellapina. Fox said he was watching the game with friends, thinking, "oh my god, this is insane" when Makar scored.

The college route was fortuitous for all three players. Hughes finished his University of Michigan season (33 points in 32 games) and career last spring, then joined Vancouver for the final five games of the regular season, registering three assists and treble hope among Canucks fans with his up-ice instincts. "We're all fortunate that we have coaching staffs they believe in us" to give the three young stars the confidence to join their team's scoring rushes.

Fox said "college lets you develop your game to jump into the NHL and be ready for years." Makar noted he was "a smaller guy so I could work on my body and mental side of the game at UMass ... I'm glad I did, it was the best couple years of my life so far."

The Zoom chat connected a lot of dots-the three players discussed national team battles between Canada and the USA (Calgary native Mahar vs. Fox and Mahar), who they dread approaching them on a scoring chance and which forwards are hard to push away from the front of the net. It's an instructive and entertaining half-hour, including an insightful set of answers about childhood idols for the three offensive-minded: Mahar identified hometown Flames forward Jerome Iginla, Hughes named Chicago's Duncan Keith and Fox watched New York Rangers Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch's goal highlights (his father's favorite player). No wonder these guys are offensive-minded.  

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