On Friday night, the top player in all of college hockey was announced as University of Massachusetts sophomore defenseman Cale Makar. Makar was named this year’s recipient of the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, the highest honor in NCAA Men’s Hockey, at a special event held in Buffalo, New York, the site of this year’s Frozen Four Championship. However, Makar is in Buffalo for more than just an awards banquet, as he and UMass defeated the University of Denver in overtime on Thursday and will play for the National Championship tomorrow night. Makar, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, is then expected to join the Colorado Avalanche in their first-round postseason series as early as Monday. Talk about a wild week.
Makar edged out two other talented defensemen for the Hobey Baker this year; his fellow “Hat Trick Finalists” were Harvard University’s Adam Fox and St. Cloud State University’s Jimmy Schuldt. This was the first time that all three finalists were defensemen, as voting has begun to favor defensemen more in recent years than it had in the past. University of Denver defenseman Will Butcher won the award in 2017, but prior to that it had not gone to a blue liner since Boston University’s Matt Gilroy in 2009. Like Butcher, now with the New Jersey Devils, Makar, Fox, and Schuldt are all expected to step into immediate NHL roles once turning pro. Schuldt, an undrafted senior, has already signed with the Vegas Golden Knights, while Makar will soon do the same with the Avalanche. Fox, a junior, has been the subject of controversy with not one, but two different NHL teams already, as he has been reluctant to sign with the team that drafted him, the Calgary Flames, and his current rights holder, the Carolina Hurricanes. As a result, the speculation is that Fox will return to Harvard for his senior season and could be a Hobey Baker candidate again next season.
As for the man of the hour, it’s hard to argue that Makar was not deserving of this recognition. Considered by many to be the top prospect in hockey, Makar is a generational talent in terms of his skating and ability to move the puck. Makar is an elite play-maker with vision and creativity, but is far from just an offensive specialist. He is not afraid to play physical, breaks up plays with consistency, and is a smart positional player. Makar holds a team-high 49 points in 40 games this year, but also leads UMass with a +33 rating. Nationally, Makar is second among all defensemen in both goals and assists and is third in scoring among all players, but still has one game remaining with the National Championship still to come.
The next step for Makar will be to sign his standard three-year entry-level contract, but the 20-year-old is likely to burn his first year immediately by suiting up for Colorado as soon as possible. He will then challenge for and likely succeed in landing a starting role for the Avalanche next season and should wind up as a top-four if not top-pair defensemen for the team by the end of the 2019-20 season. The dynamic defender will undoubtedly be one of the favorites to win the Calder Trophy next season as the best rookie in the NHL. Despite the unbelievable streak that Makar is on right now, the best is yet to come for the promising prospect.