Makar enters Final showing attributes to be truly great with Avalanche

But Carvel, the coach at the University of Massachusetts, had a suggestion.

“I said, ‘I don’t know anyone else in this draft, but you have to take Kal Makar First overall,'” said Carvel. “Just kidding. And he said, ‘Carvey,’ if I do that, he’ll never come to UMass. I said, ‘OK, don’t take him. Don’t take him.'”

The devils don’t. They settled on Hischier, with Patrick becoming the No. 2 Philadelphia Flyers pick and defenseman Miro Heiskanen No. 3 Dallas Stars before the Colorado Avalanche picked Makar at No. 4.

Five years later, Shero could kick himself.

“He was a pretty good choice,” said retired Avalanche goalie and Hockey Hall of Famer Patrick Roy. “I’m sure there are three teams watching the games and saying, ‘Holy cow, what have we done?'”

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Hischier has been a solid captain of the Devils and has had NHL career bests of 21 goals, 39 assists and 60 points this season. Makar is a revelation, a defender with the potential to surpass 100 points and a ceiling that doesn’t seem to exist. He’s a stunning player with all the attributes it takes to be great – skating, vision, passing – and he’s 23 years old.

And now he gets a chance to show how good he is on the national stage when the Avalanche take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals. The best-of-7 series begins Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS) at Denver’s Ball Arena.

“Cale Makar is in another world,” Roy said. “I think he could become the best defender that has ever played. It’s a pleasure to watch him play. He’s in a hurry, he’s got great hands.

“When I see him play, every NHL GM or anyone involved in hockey in anything probably dreams of having a Makar on their team.”

That’s exactly why athletic director Ryan Bamford gave him a stern message the minute Carvel was hired by UMass on March 29, 2016.

“As soon as you hang up that phone, you have to call Cale Makar,” Carvel recalls.

It wasn’t a request. It was an order.

With a new coach, UMass didn’t want to lose the award-winning recruit.

Makar would help transform the UMass hockey program and grow it into a national championship contender by losing the 2019 NCAA Division I championship game to Minnesota-Duluth. He became the school’s first winner of the 2019 Hobey Baker Award, presented to the top player in NCAA Division I hockey. He advanced to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and wowed the hockey world with six points (one goal, five assists). 10 games. He would transition to the NHL full-time for the 2019-20 season and win the Calder Trophy, voted NHL Rookie of the Year.

He just kept getting better and better, finishing this season with 86 points (28 goals, 58 assists), leading defensemen in goals and is a finalist for the Norris Trophy, voted the NHL’s best defenseman after finishing second last season became Adam Fox of the New York Rangers.

“I think he’s just an incredible talent,” said Ray Bourque, the defender of the Hall of Fame who won the 2001 Stanley Cup with Avalanche, by every measure he is by far the most exciting player to watch at the position.

“I’m just really impressed with him, how he defends, how he competes and how well he plays and how difficult he is to play against despite all his attacking talent. It has to be said that his offensive talent is way beyond anyone you’ll see playing this position.

“But then again, you look at how responsible he is on his own end and I’m so glad to see that. So many guys are one dimensional and they kind of get attached to being known as that type of player. But not as exciting as it is to watch him offensively, it’s exciting to watch him on the other side making big splits or being physical.

The words are piling up, accolades from luminaries past and present. They are strong, heavy. They could weigh on a player being lauded and compared to Hall of Famers like Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey like Bourque was.

On the other hand, this is not new.

Carvel finally saw Makar in person in September 2016 when he flew to Alberta to see the young defense attorney who inspired such a demand from his boss. Makar took the ice, skated in warm-ups, and Carvel called one of his assistants.

“We have Eric Karlson come to UMass. You know that?” said Carvel.

It could be the last time anyone underestimated Makar.

In Makar’s second season at UMass, the coach upped the ante after watching his strength and endurance improve. He predicted that Makar would become the “McDavid the defenseman,” likening him to center for the Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavidwho took the NHL by storm, defeating the Makar and the Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals that season.

“I think back then people were like, ‘How dare you say that? It’s not fair,'” Carvel said. “And I just felt like it was true.”

Carvel has watched Makar add parts to his playing he didn’t have in college, as he matured in his vision and ability to read the play, and the world has discovered what he discovered six years ago.

He wasn’t surprised, even if others are still amazed.

“The moment he gets the puck, his vision of how he sees the game, his starting passes and how he could run it out if needed or just follow the game along is amazing,” Bourque said. “He’s just a fantastic player. I like watching him. He will win many Norris trophies and this year could be his first.”

It could be, although Makar has stiff competition: Victor Hedman the Captain of the Lightning and Nashville Predators Roman Josi.

Whatever happens with the awards or the Stanley Cup Finals, most agree on one thing: they’re not sure what the cap is for Makar, but they’re pretty sure he hasn’t reached it yet .

“After I saw them [Western Conference Final] Series, Makar is a special, special guy,” said Coffey. “Every five years I am interviewed about a defense attorney. It could be Mike Green scoring 40 goals. It could be Erik Karlsson in Ottawa. I tell any reporter who asks me about such players to call me next year. I’m doing the interview but call me next year to see if the guy is consistent.

“But a guy like Makar will do it consistently. You see it now. The sky is the limit.”

NHL.com columnists Dave Stubbs and Nicholas J. Cotsonika and staff writer Mike Zeisberger contributed to this report

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