Most everyone in hockey believes the Colorado Avalanche made a fine selection in Cale Makar, with the No. 4 overall pick in Friday’s first round of the NHL draft. He’s got skill at both ends of the ice and some think he has a chance to become another Erik Karlsson.
But there’s there’s been this little qualifier with Makar since being taken.
“There’s no doubting his skill, but you have to wonder about the level of competition he had in that league of his…”
That league Makar played in is the Alberta Junior Hockey League, one that started as a five-team group in 1964 and today has 16 clubs. It is considered a big step down in overall quality from the major junior leagues such as the Ontario Hockey League, the Western League and the Quebec League.
But the AJHL is not without its share of NHL alumni. In fact, more than 200 past or present NHL players spent some time in the AJHL, including Mark Messier, Lanny McDonald, Dany Heatley and most all the Sutter brothers.
Makar has heard all the knocks against his league, but the kid from Calgary, Alberta, believes it’s unwarranted.
“I think it’s a little bit of an underestimated league,” Makar said Monday afternoon inside the dressing room of the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center, where he and four other Avs draftees were introduced. “Players in the league can be older, because we’re allowed six 20-year-olds. So, they can come in with stronger players. Maybe not as high a caliber, but as strong as everybody else.”
Still, there is a “man versus boys” uneasy sentiment that creeps in after watching YouTube highlights of Makar’s time with the Brooks Bandits. From the community-access-style feel to the video, to the hapless attempts at stopping him by opponents, there is the feeling that Makar still has a lot left to prove against “real” competition.
Makar, though, could only play against the competition that showed up. Now, he’s on to bigger and better things, at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Wait, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst? They were awful this past season, perhaps the worst team in all of college hockey. They went 5-29-2. Their only NCAA tournament appearance came back in 2007. Everybody in Massachusetts knows the best UMass hockey is played at UMass-Lowell.
Well, Makar actually committed to UMass-Amherst before their disastrous last season, when John Michelleto was the coach. His replacement was Greg Carvel, and the program only got worse in his first year at the helm. Here is the intriguing part: Not only is Carvel’s program about to automatically get better with the addition of Makar, but Makar will now be mentored by the same person who is credited with accelerating the development of Ottawa Senators superstar Karlsson.
Carvel was an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators from 2004-11, and did a lot of work with Karlsson in his first two years in the NHL. Now, he gets a player who has drawn some – not a lot, but some – comparisons as another potential Karlsson.
“I’m excited about joining their program, and just trying to get to the next level of development,” said the well-spoken Makar, who carried a solid B average in his studies in Calgary, and who lists “The Office” as his favorite television show. “I know there are things I need to keep working on, like areas defensively and just overall. I think I will have that opportunity in college, and hopefully when I’m ready (to jump to the NHL), I’ll make that transition too.”
Makar also plans to live in the weight room this summer. One interesting comment of his today: “At my size now, I don’t think I’d be capable of playing in this league.”
Makar may not grow much taller, but he plans to get much more physically muscular. Assuming all goes according to plan, nobody will be kicking sand in Makar’s face, about his game, his junior league or his overall person.
Here is some video of Makar meeting the media on Monday: