The Colorado Avalanche have been knocking on the door of National Hockey League greatness for a few years but have finally made it out of the Western Conference this season. They have advanced to their first Stanley Cup Finals since the 2000-2001 campaign, the last time they won the championship. Head coach Jared Bednar has received contributions from many players on his roster, and the best of the bunch might be 23-year-old defenseman Cale Makar.
Makar and the Avalanche are playing at an extremely high level right now and will need to maintain that type of play against a polished Tampa Bay Lightning roster. Tampa Bay disposed of the New York Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals and has won the Stanley Cup in the last two seasons. Not surprisingly, most sports betting apps like Fanduel have Colorado favored to beat Tampa Bay, given recent historical achievements. Colorado is listed at -164, while Tampa Bay is designated a +136 underdog at the moment.
The franchise selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and he has been everything they could have hoped for. As soon as the puck dropped in his first NHL game, Makar has been a difference-maker. In 2019-2020, he won the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the premier rookie in the NHL. In his second season, he was named to the All-Star team and finished second in the voting for the James Norris Trophy, bestowed on the best defenseman in the league each year. Along with Victor Hedman and Roman Josi, Makar was named a finalist for the Norris trophy this year.
Cale Makar is a budding superstar, thanks to his well-rounded skill set. There aren’t very many things he can’t do on the ice, and he contributes to multiple aspects of the game. As one might expect, his defense and impact in thwarting opposing attacks are elite. Makar makes life extremely difficult for opposing stars to get clean looks at the net, which was expected when the Avalanche drafted him. He set career highs in 2021-2022 in blocks(110), hits(95), and takeaways(49).
Many NHL defensemen are on the ice strictly to provide physicality and intimidate their opponents from initiating the offense. While Makar checks those boxes, he has also become an offensive force this season, making him one of the most valuable two-way players in the NHL. He scored 28 goals this year and also recorded 58 assists. That’s a remarkable output for a player who can regain possession for his team and convert precious scoring chances on the other end.
He has shined on the team’s run to the championship series. Makar felt his presence right away on the big stage, blocking four shots and registering three points in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Edmonton Oilers. He also closed out the series sweep in solid fashion, assisting on four goals and scoring one of his own in a 6-5 Avalanche victory.
Even though he’s in the infancy of his career, Makar has received some high praise from some of the best to play the game. Wayne Gretzky has compared the young player to Hall of Fame defensemen, likening his skills to the legendary Bobby Orr. The Hall of Famer also thought Makar was the best player in the Western Conference Finals.
If the Calgary native can perform at an exceptional level in the Stanley Cup Finals, Makar would be well on his way to delivering a Hall of Fame career.