Name: Cale Makar
Team: Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
Stats: 54 GP, 24 goals, 51 assists, 75 points, 18 PIMs
NHL Central Scouting Ranking: 9th (North American Skaters)
NHL Comparable Player: Erik Karlsson
It usually only takes a few seconds to notice Cale Makar once he steps out onto the ice.
It’s not because he’s big (standing at roughly 5’11”), but rather because the Brooks Bandits defender is such an incredible skater and puck handler that he routinely drops jaws and draws fans to the edges of their seats.
Giving Nico Hischier a run for his money as the best skater in the entire draft, Makar is a cheetah on skates, tearing around the rink at a breakneck pace and with incredible fluidity. He has lightning-fast feet, which provide him with an explosive first couple of steps and such sharp lateral crossovers that he almost looks like he’s dancing. His edges are fantastic, allowing him to stop, juke and jive to break the ankles of opposing defenders, before accelerating off again when he finds the space that he’s looking for.
Amazingly, Makar’s hands are almost as fast as his feet are, giving him the ability to seamlessly maneuver the puck through sticks, skates, and whatever other traffic is in his way. He doesn’t have the longest of reaches, but he can keep the puck protected close to his body without losing it in his skates or having to slow himself down.
The combination of skating and puck control makes Makar a breathtaking and endlessly entertaining player to watch. Every time he gathers the puck behind his own net other teams freeze up a little, knowing that he always has the skill to cut through everyone in a spectacular end-to-end rush.
As if that wasn’t enough, Makar rounds out his reputation as a premiere offensive defenseman with excellent vision, passing and shooting skills. He keeps his head up on the rush, scanning for holes that he can exploit. He’ll draw players to him, making them think solo rush, only to thread a pass to a wide-open teammate instead. His passes are hard and crisp, especially along the perimeter on the powerplay. On the man advantage he loves to rove around and find gaps in coverage, and if he gets fed the puck he can unleash a sinister wrist shot or a powerful one-timer.
So, if Makar is so highly skilled and compares stylistically to Erik Karlsson, the best defenseman in the NHL right now, why hasn’t he been getting more buzz as a challenger to Hischier and Nolan Patrick as the top player in the 2017 draft? There are a couple of reasons.
For one, Makar’s ability to defend his own zone is still something of a mystery. His Brooks Bandits coach, for obvious reasons, gives him tons of powerplay time and offensive zone starts, but few defensive zone starts and even less time on the penalty kill. As a player that’s not getting used in tough defensive situations at this point, during the important early development stages of his playing career, it’s unlikely that he’s going to grow into a shutdown defender at any point in his NHL career.
The other is based on competition. Playing at the Canadian Junior A level, the CJHL, Makar’s competition all season was a level lower than his prospect peers playing in the CHL leagues (the OHL, WHL and QMJHL). Compounding the matter, he has not yet played against the best that his age group has to offer in the two biggest international junior tournaments, the IIHF U18s and the World Juniors (he did, however, excel at another pretty good tournament, the World Junior A Challenge).
It’s something of a paradoxical situation: is Makar’s potential getting exaggerated because he’s torching weaker competition, or on the flip side, is he flying under the radar because of it? If he played for a prestigious CHL team such as, say, the London Knights and was just as successful, would everyone now be talking about him as a potential 1st overall pick?
With John Klingberg and Julius Honka already in the organization, the Dallas Stars are seemingly loaded right now with offensive, puck-moving defenseman that shoot right-handed. They don’t need someone like Makar quite as much as they need a playmaking center. However, it also has to be stated that Makar is an exceptional talent, one that might one day end up being better than both Klingberg and Honka in the NHL. If Stars general manager Jim Nill believes in selecting the best player available at 3rd overall, regardless of position and organizational need, then he’ll need to be diligent and do his full homework on Makar, too.