TAMPA -- What were you doing at 23 years old? Whatever it was, it probably wasn't as cool as what Cale Makar is doing at that age.
The Avalanche's stud defenseman enjoyed a very successful 2021-22 campaign; he earned his second All-Star selection and his first Norris Trophy win. He capped it off by raising the Stanley Cup with Colorado, in addition to the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.
Makar's status among the NHL's elite has skyrocketed. He led all defenseman with 28 goals in the regular season — more than forwards John Tavares, Patrick Kane, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin. He dominated in the playoffs, jumping out with 10 points in four games in the first round before finishing with 29 points in 20 games.
It's not just that Makar produces points. He also possesses rare skating ability. He has an uncanny knack for opening his hips and escaping trouble. He can fly up and down the ice.
And he has slick hands to pair with that skating ability. His highlights are endless:
Filthy from Cale Makar pic.twitter.com/y04IRquayE— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) May 4, 2022
And then there's the defense. Not many defenders in the world can make defensive plays against the league's top offensive players look easy. But Makar has done that, even against the likes of Connor McDavid.
Cale Makar defending against Connor McDavid 👀 pic.twitter.com/llh0LbdglU— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) June 3, 2022
Cale Makar wtf man pic.twitter.com/LGxyGVw02e— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) June 21, 2022
The conversation about who was the best defenseman in the league took place as the season went on, but Makar's showing in the playoffs cemented his status. He has overtaken Victor Hedman for best blue-liner in hockey.
Now, there is a legitimate argument to be made that, despite only being in the league for three seasons, Makar is already a top-five player in the NHL.
Who are the top five players in the NHL right now?
It's extremely difficult for a defenseman to be considered one of the best in the game. Playing on the blue line doesn't allow them produce on offense like forwards do. The defense-over-offense argument is tough to make when points are easily trackable.
Enter Makar and his 1.011 points per game. He has 180 points in 178 regular-season games. Among defensemen who have recorded more than 250 career points, only two in NHL history have finished above 1.00 in points per game — Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey.
Makar is not the offensive machine that Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns were in their primes, where they sacrificed defense for their offense. Makar's two-way game is incredible; he uses his skating and his stick to break up plays and be responsible in his own zone.
I could see arguments that players like Nikita Kucherov, Artemi Panarin, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have had longer sustained success, but they aren't doing things in all three zones the way Makar is.
If I had to list my top five players right now, this is how I would rank them, with Makar just sliding in.
|1.||Connor McDavid||F||Edmonton Oilers|
|2.||Auston Matthews||F||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|3.||Leon Draisaitl||F||Edmonton Oilers|
|4.||Nathan MacKinnon||F||Colorado Avalanche|
|5.||Cale Makar||D||Colorado Avalanche|