DENVER — Cale Makar is about to jump from one grueling playoff run straight into another.
The 20-year-old defenseman signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Colorado Avalanche a day after his Massachusetts squad lost in the Frozen Four championship game.
Makar, who’s from Calgary, could make his NHL debut Monday in Game 3 of a playoff series against the Flames. The series is tied at a game apiece.
“I want to make sure he’s in, rested, prepared and focused on what we’re doing here now. Then we’ll make a decision on when we get him in the lineup,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Sunday after the team returned from Calgary. “It’s definitely a big step up from the college game, especially when you’re jumping in mid-series, in a heated playoff round, against such a good opponent like Calgary. It’s my job to make sure I’m putting him in a position to succeed.”
The 6-foot, 192-pound Makar was the fourth overall pick by Colorado in the 2017 draft. Makar recently won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as college hockey’s top player after a season in which he had 49 points, including 16 goals, over 41 games.
Along the way, Makar broke the UMass single-season school record for points by a defenseman, eclipsing the previous mark of 41 set by Thomas Poeck in 2003-04.
“He is a game-changing type of player who made a lasting impact on the UMass hockey program,” general manager Joe Sakic said Sunday in a statement. “We are excited to have him join our team.”
And possibly insert him into the lineup. The soon-to-be-next assignment could be this: Stop Johnny Gaudreau and the rest of the high-flying Flames.
“He’s an elite talent and a real special player,” Bednar said. “So I have hopes he can come in and help us in this series. If I said there wasn’t any concern, I’d probably be lying. It will be another level that he’s never played at before. But he does have a lot of international experience. He’s played big games, played a major role for their team going all the way to the championship game.”
Makar helped the Minutemen reach the title contest before they were knocked off 3-0 by Minnesota Duluth on Saturday night. Perhaps knowing it would be his final time in a UMass sweater, Makar couldn’t bring himself to take it off just yet and wore it to the podium.
“I’m so very honored and humbled to put this jersey on every single game,” Makar said. “Our practice jerseys, as well. I’m so fortunate that I chose this school, under such a great staff.
“It’s just a sense of pride now. As I touched on, we brought so much respect to this crest. This program is no longer an embarrassment. Everybody can look at us as a program that’s going to be successful for years.”
Makar joins an Avalanche blue line that includes Tyson Barrie, Ian Cole, Samuel Girard, Erik Johnson and Nikita Zadorov. Girard was banged up in the overtime win Saturday and will undergo further evaluation before a decision is made on his status.
Asked what Makar could possibly bring to the lineup, Bednar said: “Same thing he did for his team in college. He’s a dynamic player, obviously an elite skater, physically involved in every game I’ve watched. He’s dynamic in the way he can help you produce offense. He’s got a great shot, great blue-line movement, active in the offensive zone. Some of the things that made us a good team yesterday in Calgary, he can just add to that.”