Prioritizing skill on the blueline has been a focal point for National Hockey League teams for more than a decade. Organizations understand that mobile, skilled defenders who can skate out of trouble and transition the puck can be worth just as much as the hulking, shutdown type.
There are a dozen or so elite defenders around the league – most of them well inside of their 20s. On Saturday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs got a look at one of the best in the business.
Colorado defenceman Cale Makar has been dazzling the league for three seasons now. And with all due respect to Adam Fox, Victor Hedman, and Charlie McAvoy, he may already be the most dominant player at his position. A freakish combination of skill and athleticism, Makar unlocks another element of a fast-paced Colorado attack that can be impossible to slow down most nights.
It’s not hard to draw a straight line from Makar to some of the greats who preceded him. If you muted the television and rolled the calendar back seven years or so, you would think you are watching Erik Karlsson in his prime, the most gifted offensive defenceman we have seen since the Nicklas Lidstrom era.
But Makar seems cut from a different cloth. Since entering the league, Makar has averaged 0.73 goals per 60 minutes of play. That’s best amongst all defencemen, but it’s also strong in comparison to quality forwards around the league.