Makar won the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year in 2019-20. He was ninth in the voting for the Norris Trophy, which goes to the best NHL defenseman. He was runner-up for the Norris in 2020-21.
He won the Norris last season, then became the unanimous choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup.
That isn’t enough recognition in the eyes of Darcy Kuemper, who played goalie for the Avalanche last season and signed with the Washington Capitals as an unrestricted free agent July 13.
NHL.com asked each player at the NHL North American Player Media Tour in Las Vegas last month to name the most underappreciated player in the NHL. Kuemper picked Makar.
“When we won the Cup, he was unbelievable for us,” Kuemper said. “Everyone knows how good he is, but I think he is still underrated.”
In case Kuemper didn’t understand the question, NHL.com reminded him that Makar had won the Norris and the Conn Smythe.
“I still think he’s underrated,” Kuemper said.
OK. So, what’s next then? The Hart Trophy, which goes to the MVP of the regular season?
Makar was 12th in the voting in 2020-21. He finished eighth last season.
NHL.com asked each player at the NAPMT who would win the Hart this season. Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon, a three-time Hart finalist, picked Makar.
“I’ll go with Cale,” MacKinnon said. “I think Cale is going to have a great year. I think it’s hard for [defensemen] to win that award, but if someone can, it’s him.”
Video: Cale Makar at No. 2 on NHL Network’s countdown
No defenseman has won the Hart since Chris Pronger of the St. Louis Blues in 2000, and he was the first defenseman to win it since Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins won it three seasons in a row from 1970-72.
But when you look for comparisons to Makar, Orr’s name and numbers come up, and Makar thinks he has room for improvement as he approaches his 24th birthday on Oct. 30. If he stays on this trajectory, he might have enough momentum with the voters from the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
Makar has 180 points (48 goals, 132 assists) in 178 NHL games, including 86 points (28 goals, 58 assists) in 77 games last season. His career average of 1.01 points per game is third in NHL history among defensemen who have played at least 130 games, behind Orr (1.39) and Paul Coffey (1.09).
“I just want to continue to get better,” Makar said at the NAPMT. “I think there’s still extra levels that I can get to in my game, whether it’s just the consistency aspect, adding more defensive stuff, or just being that guy every single night that can be relied on in all situations. I think there’s still more that I can bring.”
Makar has had a maturity about him since he broke into the NHL during the playoffs in 2019 at age 20, fresh off winning the Hobey Baker Award as the top men’s player in the NCAA and leading the University of Massachusetts Amherst to the NCAA final.
As he has grown in the NHL, he has gained more confidence to try more things with his considerable skill. Now that he’s an award-winner and champion, he knows he and his team — targets of opponents, who will measure themselves against them each game — must keep the right mindset.
“Coming into this season, you can’t lose grasp of that confidence,” Makar said. “You come off a Cup win, you can’t get to the point of cockiness and stuff like that. You have to remain humble and still in the moment. Our team has done a good job of that. But yeah, trying new things and be confident in it, and the more you work on it, the better you get.”
One way Makar can add even more value to the Avalanche is by speaking up more often.
At first, Makar had to balance being assertive on the ice with respecting veterans whose ice time he was taking. But now he’s one of the best players in the League. His team needs him to be a leader in every way.
MacKinnon said Makar can be quiet on game nights. In power-play meetings, MacKinnon and forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen will be chatting while Makar doesn’t say a word.
“We’re all just kind of giving him [bleep],” MacKinnon said. “‘You’re quarterbacking this whole thing. Like, what do you think? Like, tell us. Please.'”
“We want Cale Makar’s opinion on things,” MacKinnon said. “Yeah, I’ll tell at him, ‘Man, just tell me what you think! [Bleep!]'”
Makar agreed with MacKinnon.
Polite and reserved by nature, focused on being a team player, he still seemed bashful about it, though.
“This is the fourth season now for me,” Makar said. “I think obviously the last thing you ever want to do is step on anybody’s toes, and I’m still a relatively young guy. But I feel like [last season], especially in playoffs, I took that extra step in the communication aspect of leadership and stuff. I like to think I am one of the, hopefully, like, leaders on the team.”
Like to think? One of the? Hopefully, like, leaders?
“We have so many [leaders]” Makar said. “That’s how you win Cups, when everybody has different aspects of leadership, so it’s not just an individual. But we just have such a great leadership corps in ‘Landy,’ Nate, Mikko and [defenseman Erik Johnson].
“But no, for me, it’s just, I feel like, I want things to mean stuff when I speak, so you want to be … It’s not too much calculated, but you want to make sure you’re not overtalking and stuff like that and make sure you say the right things. So, for me, I know he’s told me that a lot and stuff, and I think this year could be more improvement in that style.”
In the end, no matter what Makar says in the dressing room, his play will leave others talking about him — maybe even, if MacKinnon is right, about him winning the Hart.
“And that’s OK,” MacKinnon said with a laugh. “You know, everyone doesn’t have to be the chattiest guy in the world. You’ve seen how he is on the ice. Keep doing that.”
NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti contributed to this report
This news is republished from another source. You can check the original article here