There likely isn’t a more dynamic offensive defenceman in this year’s draft than Cale Makar of the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Brooks Bandits.
In the 53 years of the AJHL’s history, only 83 players have ever heard their name called at the NHL draft. Only three of them walked the stage in the first round, and none higher than Joe Colborne at 16th overall. Makar is ready to make history, as he’s likely to hear his name called no later than tenth.
ICYMI, here's my story from Monday night on NHL draft shooting star Cale Makar: https://t.co/IjjOJd8MDO
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) December 15, 2016
The lower level of competition that Makar faced playing in a Junior A league made it difficult for the draft analysis community to warm up to his game, but warm up they have, and that reflects itself in his rankings aborad. It’s possible Makar is the first defenceman off the board at this stage. For the purpose of the Nation Network consensus rankings, Makar is the second highest blueliner on our board, checking in as the ninth-ranked prospect in our countdown from 100.
- Age: 18-years-old, 1998-10-30
- Birthplace: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
- Position: D
- Handedness: R
- Height: 5’11″
- Weight: 179 lbs
- Draft Year Team: Brooks Bandits – AJHL
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Makar was lights-out this season in the AJHL, including a dominant performance at the World Junior A challenge. Small, old (he’s a late 1998 birth date) defensemen from Junior A don’t get me excited that often, but Makar deserves a ton of recognition, thanks to his talent level. Makar skates very well, with a good burst out of each stride. He’s aggressive jumping into the play, and he can pressure opponents with his speed. He’s also a highly skilled puck handler, with high-end offensive instincts. He can make tough offensive plays with consistency and quarterback a power play with the best of them. His defense was passable at the Junior A level, but scouts are concerned about him checking pros. His size is the main issue, as he has a short wingspan and can struggle to win battles or close gaps. He wasn’t even on his Junior A team’s penalty kill for a good chunk of the season. He has as much upside as any defenseman in the class, and though he might seem like a guy I usually tend to like, there’s a bunch of alarm bells going off in my brain at the same time. He is committed to UMass-Amherst for next season.
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) May 24, 2017
Cale Makar, a dynamic offensive defenceman from the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Brooks Bandits, jumped from No. 12 to No. 7. Makar is also still playing. His Bandits won the AJHL crown and are in the five-team Western Canada Cup championship tournament that begins this weekend in Penticton.
A quick little defenseman that is a complete and dangerous offensive package…a fantastic skater… an effortless stride and light feet…loses no speed in transitions and is difficult to lock down as he can change directions on a dime…excels at walking the line with various feigns and stutter steps to open up shooting and passing lanes…doesn’t posses a cannon but a solid shot with an ability to surprise goaltenders…has smooth hands and shows an ability to dangle through defenders…instincts and smarts with the puck are elite and he is a driver of offence…has high level awareness in all areas on the ice and has an innate understanding of how the play is developing…doesn’t have ideal size for a defenceman however and could use added strength for battles down low…defensive positioning can use refinement…overall a skilled offenseman who passes with purpose and accuracy and fits the mold of a puck moving defenceman at the NHL level. (November 2016)
Dynamic two-way defenseman who torched Canadian Junior “A” by winning every major individual award, including top player in the AJHL and CJHL, plus MVP of the RBC Cup for a second straight year. Makar, who is committed to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, is an explosive skater with a devastating first step. He commands all areas of the ice with or without the puck, and there is a noticeable fear in the way opponents attempt to defend him. Makar is blessed with an acute understanding of his job in any of the three zones, and he uses a variety of methods to beat back pressure. The way he defends is textbook, especially for a player listed under six feet. While he won’t win the proverbial arm-wrestling contest against bigger forwards, he’s highly competitive and relentless in the way he uses his stick. Quite frankly, his offensive skills are so sublime, you forget how painfully sound his defensive play is, even if it wasn’t against the best of North American major junior. He is the quintessential power play quarterback that can beat you with his accurate stretch passes, end-to-end rushes or setting himself up to unleash a monstrous cannon from the point. You can run out of superlatives trying to describe his game, and one can only hope his dominating performances at high-profile events like the RBC Cup and World Junior “A” Challenge quell concerns related to the level of his competition.
I was fairly skeptical of Makar’s ascendance up draft rankings in the earlier parts of the season. It wasn’t until about December that I started to catch Bandits’ games regularly, and as soon as I did, his talent hit home in such a way that was hard to ignore.
Makar shows his fast-twitch burst, explosiveness. Entire Cobourg team trying to stop him. pic.twitter.com/0gk7Eu1nV6
— Canucks Prospects (@NucksWatch) May 22, 2017
Simply put, I don’t think there’s a better skater in this draft than Makar — regardless of position. He accelerates out of a stationary position in such a way that makes him a constant threat to create space in the offensive zone and a force to be reckoned with in transition. His edge work is, in a word, phenomenal. His lateral quickness and ability to work the perimeter of the offensive zone with his skates in a ten-and-two stance are fantastic.
Makar dances with the puck, draws defenders in, adjusts his edges to new angle, and sets up go-ahead goal pic.twitter.com/CLsoIhStMO
— Canucks Prospects (@NucksWatch) May 21, 2017
Makar’s offensive toolkit doesn’t begin and end with his skating, though. His shot, while not the hardest, almost always finds its way to the net, and he has a deceptively quick release that can catch goalies off guard. In the offensive zone, Makar is a well-rounded contributor, in the sense that he’s just as capable a playmaker as he is a finisher.
— Tyler King (@tyler_king) March 21, 2017
My one concern with Makar is that I have something of a blind spot when it comes to how well he defends. That’s a double-edged sword. The reason I can’t speak to Makar’s defensive acumen is that it was so rare when I watched the Bandits that they were in the defensive zone when he was on the ice. When the talent compresses in a significant way at the NCAA level for Makar, he’ll be tested, and it’s safe to say he might need to develop a fair amount in that regard.
Obviously, there concerns among the scouting community at large about the fact that Makar played in one of the lower tiers of Junior A hockey. It doesn’t help Makar’s case that he’s also on the older side of first-time draft eligible prospects. That’s worthwhile context, and I wouldn’t ask that you altogether ignore it.
#2017NHLDraft Cale Makar with a ridiculous shot on his goal.
The puck got stuck in the net!
There was a delay just to get it out. pic.twitter.com/17ZKAuUaWc
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) May 4, 2017
I wouldn’t be too concerned, though. Every time Makar had an opportunity to play among higher competition, he excelled this season. Whether it was at the RBC Cup or the Five Nations tournament, Makar was excellent against stiffer competition as a minute-munching, point producing number one defenceman.
The precedent for success when drafting out of the AJHL isn’t great. If there was a player that could deviate from that, it’s Makar. His skating, hockey smarts and shot are skills that I think will translate to higher competition and eventually the professional ranks.
We’ll get a better idea of where Makar’s development is at next season. He’s committed to play for UMass-Amherst next season in the toughest NCAA hockey conference, and it’s likely he’ll take on a massive role on that blue line. And he’s going to succeed in a big way.