Cale Makar is 23 but looks like he is 13. He is also the best defenseman in hockey.
Three years ago, he made his professional debut in Game 3 of a first round playoff series between Colorado and Calgary. He scored a goal in the first period of that game and has somehow exceeded every expectation since. Makar is unlike anything I’ve seen in a hockey rink. He is Gumby come to life and stuffed in skates, a rubber man who eludes the opposition with elastic ease. His stop/start ability is, again, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. At times it seems as though he is anchored to dry land, cutting and shifting like a basketball player on hardwood, while everyone else is forced to try and mirror his movement on ice. His passing is transcendent, as is his shot, as is his stickwork, as is his defense—indeed, the more you watch Cale Makar, the more you understand his game is without flaw. That is not to say this little boy, dominating in a sport of grown men, is perfect. His attempts to grow a playoff beard have not been fruitful, resulting in approximately five scraggly hairs: three on the upper lip, two on the chin. If you look close enough during a press conference you can see them, though to glimpse them during live action as Makar is screaming up and down the ice is impossible.
Makar and the Avalanche play Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The matchup is as good as it gets, the back-to-back champions going for an unprecedented three-peat in the salary cap era against an Avs team yearning to replace them. It also features Makar going head-to-head against Victor Hedman, the man he is replacing as “best defenseman in hockey.” Hedman is many things that Makar isn’t, an enormous, full-bearded tank of a human that does not in any way resemble a young boy. He is a grown man in a sport of grown men—to see him stand side-by-side with Makar is to marvel at the improbability of Gumby equaling or superseding the Hulk in a physical competition. Yet here we are as the Cup Finals are set to begin, discussing someone besides Hedman as THE defenseman in the NHL, not as a prototype for the position moving forward, but as a true unicorn. There can, after all, only be one Gumby.
Cale Makar is 23 but looks like he is 13. He is also the best defenseman in hockey and stunningly, his best is yet to come.
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