Colorado Avalanche select incoming UMass D Cale Makar No. 4 in NHL draft

  • UMass incoming hockey recruit Cale Makar was selected No. 4 overall by Colorado in Friday’s NHL Draft in Chicago. COURTESY EMILY DUNCAN \ BROOKS BANDITS

  • Cale Makar, left, greets NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman after being selected by the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 23, 2017, in Chicago. AP

  • Cale Makar holds a Colorado Avalanche's jersey after being selected by the team in the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 23, 2017, in Chicago. AP

  • Cale Makar puts on a Colorado Avalanche jersey after being selected by the team with the fourth overall pick in the first round of the NHL draft, Friday in Chicago. Makar will play at UMass this upcoming season. AP

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 6/23/2017 7:48:49 PM

Cale Makar’s season-long rise from relatively unknown recruit to elite prospect peaked Friday in Chicago.

The Colorado Avalanche selected the UMass commit with the No. 4 pick in the NHL Draft.

No UMass player had ever been taken in the first round before. He’s the highest drafted player ever from the Alberta Junior Hockey League as well.

Wearing his new Avalanche cap and jersey, he admitted he was nervous leading up to his selection.

“I had a little bit of anxiousness and excitement. My heart was pumping throughout the day,” he said. “I’m here for the experience. It’s been a great couple of days.”

His new team seemed pleased to select him.

“We’re excited to add Cale to our organization,” said Avalanche director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple in a story on the Avalanche’s website. “He’s a very good skater, a very good puck-mover. Very good puck management. Offensive upside with a great shot and great vision.”

NHL teams retain draft rights to college players throughout their careers. While UMass fans have been worried that Makar might change his mind about enrolling, the Calgary, Alberta, native told reporters at the draft that he was excited to get to Amherst to prepare for his first collegiate season.

“My goal when I get to UMass is to be the No. 1 defenseman there. I know when I get to UMass they’re going to give me every opportunity to pursue that,” said Makar, who hoped to add muscle and weight to his 5-foot-11, 187-pound frame. “I’m going to have time off the ice to hopefully get bigger and stronger. My time there is hopefully going to shape me into an NHL player.”

UMass coach Greg Carvel never worried whether Makar would come to Amherst.

“I’m very happy for him. I’ve been very comfortable with it all year because of the relationship we built with Cale and his family and knowing how strongly they wanted him to be in the college setting at UMass,” said Carvel, who attended the draft at the United Center. “When Cale interviewed at the combine he made it very clear to all the teams he interviewed with that he was going to go the NCAA route. I don’t think anyone would have drafted him without knowing that.”

Makar said he didn’t have a timetable for how long he planned to stay at UMass.

“It’s going to depend on how I develop. My intention is to play in the NHL when I’m ready,” he said. “Whenever I feel I’m ready and the organization feels I’m ready, hopefully I can make that jump.”

Pressed again on the same topic, Makar gave a little more.

“One or two years at UMass,” he said. “But it’s going to depend on how I develop.”

Makar said he liked the idea of being part of UMass’ recent tradition of producing successful NHL players and hoped to help bring the program to another level.

“The new coaching staff is taking the program in a new direction,” Makar said. “I’m excited for the team on the ice next year. I’m excited for the challenge. They’re going to get a lot more fans in with a new team.

“You look at some of the alums they’ve produced with (Justin) Braun, (Jonathan) Quick and (Conor) Sheary, the cup champion,” he added. “It’s going to be an exciting time for the team I think.”

NHL.com praised Colorado’s pick:

“Makar fills Colorado’s need for a skilled defenseman. He’ll need time to develop his game next season at the University of Massachusetts, but he projects to be high-end offensive-minded defenseman.”

Craig Button of TSN, Canada’s all-sports network, also projected a promising future:

“I’m not saying he’s (Ottawa All-Star defensman) Erik Karlsson because we’re talking about a superstar and one of the great defensemen of his era, but (Makar) plays the game like that,” Button said. “He’s dynamic into the attack with the puck, making plays. He’s really, really top-notch. I think everything he has translates to the next level.”

Makar, 18, had 75 points on 24 goals and 51 assists to lead the Brooks Bandits to the Alberta Junior Hockey League title in 2016-17. He was the league’s top scoring defensemen, 23 points ahead of the next closest blue-liner.

Makar’s play in Brooks, a strong showing at the World Junior A Challenge and the dearth of puck-moving defensemen helped rocket Makar from a borderline first-round pick to the second defenseman taken overall Friday.

Makar was ranked No. 9 on NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings of North American skaters (non-goalies), which made him the highest defenseman on the list.

Makar said after this weekend those accolades won’t matter.

“It’s not going to matter where you get picked,” he said. “It’s all about what you do after the draft. It’s about how you carry yourself after.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage


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