A quick glance at the Arizona Coyotes roster reveals two big holes. Obviously, the lack of depth and top-end talent at the center position, but also a missing right-handed defenseman with the skill to play alongside Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Going into this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, a prospect like Cale Makar could be just the answer to the latter problem.
Cale Makar – Flash Stats
AJHL – 111 Games – 35 Goals – 100 Assists – 135 Points – 50 PIM
World Junior A Championship – 8 Games – 5 Goals – 4 Assists – 9 Points – 0 PIM
A Calgary native, Cale Makar, 18, exploded onto the scene this season with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. The 5-foot-11 righty improved upon a 55-point 2015-16 season with an astonishing 75-point campaign this past year
Makar is projected to be one of the top defenseman taken in the draft, with NHL.com forecasting him being the first blueliner off the board in their latest mock draft. Oh, and his “NHL comparison” is Erik Karlsson. Not too shabby.
Defenseman Cale Makar is a 2017 NHL Draft prospect with crafty skating and a booming shot.Posted by SB Nation NHL on Thursday, June 1, 2017
However, despite his lightning-quick rise up prospect rankings, Makar isn’t your typical soon-to-be draftee.
For starters, he has never played beyond the AJHL, having spent the last three seasons with Brooks after graduating from youth hockey. For comparison’s sake, the highest ever AJHL draft pick was Joe Colborne, who went 16th to the Boston Bruins back in 2008. On top of that, no AJHL player has gone in the first round since Dylan Olsen in 2009 (28th overall pick).
Makar was far and away the best player in the AJHL last year, but that distinction carries less weight coming from a “Junior A” league than it does from a CHL league. A league like the AJHL is less demanding than other superior junior leagues in North America, as its teams play fewer games with less talented players.
Makar has also been steadfast in his commitment to go to college next year, regardless of his draft position.
He told NHL.com, “The plan is to attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst next season. I believe college is the right route for me in terms of development. That's where I stand on that issue.”
Unlike other top picks who have forgone the NCAA to play in the NHL right away (see Jack Eichel), Makar is trusting the hockey program of Massachusetts-Amherst to mold him into an NHL-caliber player.
While his numbers and highlights are certainly eye-popping, these unique decisions make Makar’s potential a little unpredictable. His smaller stature (179 pounds) has yet to be an issue in his junior league, and probably won’t hinder him in college hockey, but it is yet to be seen how he performs whilst consistently playing among other top prospects across the continent.
Makar could easily be taken before the Coyotes’ pick at No. 7, but could also foreseeably be there for the taking when they are on the clock on June 23rd. While his profile (strong skater, right-handed shot, puck-moving defenseman) ticks all the boxes the team will be looking for, drafting Cale Makar would definitely be one of the riskier moves the Coyotes could make in this summer’s draft, but a risk that could potentially pay off big.