The avalanche ended the 2016-17 season 22-56-4 with the NHL down 48 points, 21 points behind its next closest team, the Vancouver Canucks (69). They had the best odds (18 percent) of winning the first pick but ended up with pick No. 4.
So they settled on the defense man Cal Makar.
It was a great stroke of luck that turned into good luck, a blow that helped Avalanche reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2001. They will host the first game of the final either June 15 or June 18 against either of the new teams. York Rangers or Tampa Bay Lightning.
But what would have happened if Colorado had won the lottery? Will Makar, considered one of the best players in the NHL, be in an avalanche?
“I’m not 100% sure [he] “…there was a lot of discussion,” said Alan Heebel, director of the Amateur Boy Scouts of Colorado from 2009-21.
Video: Makar reacts to his fourth choice overall
As it turns out, the New Jersey Devils, who had an 8.5 percent chance of getting a top pick, did so by moving up from fifth and going on to pick up the spot. Nico Hescher In the 2017 NHL Draft, the Philadelphia Flyers, who were 13th before the lottery, jumped all the way to second and took the position Nolan Patrick. The Dallas Stars, who was eighth, jumped to third and picked the defending man Miro Heskanen.
The avalanche gave the chance to pick McCar, who began causing quite a stir among scouts during the 2016-17 season, when the Calgary native was playing for Brooks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“He got a little brave in the first part of his year at Brooks,” Hebel said. “But then he jumped off the page at the World Junior A Challenge (in December 2016). He just jumped big. Skate, hockey sensation, everything.”
He was the captain of Canada West and led the defenders in the tournament with eight points (four goals and four assists) in four matches.
Makar then finished sixth in the AJHL Champions League with 75 points (24 goals, 51 assists) in 54 matches and was named the most valuable player and best defense in the league. Then in the RBC Cup, Canada’s Junior A Team Championships, he tied for second place among all players with six points (two goals, four assists) in five matches and was named Player of the Tournament.
McCar was selected by the Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League in the eighth round of the 2013 WHL Draft, but was 5 feet 6 and 125 pounds at the time. He was 5-11, 180 years old in an NHL draft season.
“I think it was a little late fall,” Hebel said. “Obviously he was a younger guy…but we stayed on him. We went to Brooks and we went all over the place.”
“We’ve done a lot of work on it.”
They did a lot of work before the draft as well, and thought their choice would come down to Heiskanen or Makar.
“We found out that Hescher was in first, and there was a good chance that Nolan Patrick was second,” Hebel said. “And then it was always, Dallas could have taken Makar, but we were in the lucky place that if it wasn’t for Makar he would have been Heskanen. We had the best of both worlds.”
Heiskanen and Makar were almost standing between avalanche scouts.
Heiskanen scored 10 points (five goals and five assists) in 37 games for HIFK in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, in 2016-2017. He also played for Finland at the 2017 IIHF World Under-18 Championship and was named the best defender in the 2017 IIHF World Under-18 Championship after leading 12 points (2 goals, 10 assists) in the tournament.
“It was a kind of tough judgment, a tough assessment for these kids,” Hebel said. “It was such a scale on where they were playing at the time.”
Traditionally, players from Liiga have been chosen highly; 13 had gone into the top ten between the 1988 NHL Draft and the 2016 NHL Draft. But at the time, three AJHL players were first-round picks: Brent Sutter (New York Islanders, No. 17, 1980 NHL Draft), center Joe Colborne (Boston Bruins, No. 16, 2008 NHL Draft) and defenseman Dylan Olsen (Chicago Blackhawks, No. 28, 2009 NHL Draft).
“taught us [Makar] He was a good player, but there’s always an idea in your head that he’s coming from the Alberta Junior League,” Hebel said.
When the draft began, the first two selections went as expected, with the Devils picking Hisshere and the Airmen choosing Patrick.
Then wait to see what the stars are up to.
“You hope,” Hebel said.
Avalanche hopes were answered when the stars chose Heiskanen.
“The right players go with #1 and 2, then you know you get a good player,” Hebel said. “Is there always a 100 percent guarantee? No. But you know you get the player you think is the best, you draft the best player in the draft. When Heiskanen got third… you get Makar.”
After two seasons at the University of Massachusetts, McCar joined Avalanche in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs and earned six points (one goal, five assists) in 10 games.
He received the Calder Award voted NHL Rookie of the Year in 2019-20, and is a finalist in the Norris Cup voting, awarded to the league’s best defender, for the second consecutive season. His 28 goals and 86 points this season have been the biggest ever by an Avalanche/Quebec Nordic defender.
“It was a fantastic pick,” said Hall of Fame goalkeeper Patrick Roy, who helped the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001 and coached them for three seasons (2013-16). “I’m sure there are three teams that are following matches, ‘Oh my God, what did we do?'” “
McCar leads the avalanche with 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 14 games during the Stanley Cup playoffs. He had basic help in Arturi LaconinThe overtime goal in a 6-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final sent Avalanche into the Cup Final.
“He might be the best player in the league right now,” the Colorado midfielder Nathan McKinnon He said after Makar got basic help in Valery NeshushkinSeries-Determining Goal in a 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 4 of the first round. “It might be better [defensemen] To play by the end of his career at this rate.”
Video: COL @ EDM, Gm4: It’s called Makar by a glove through the screen
In 178 regular season games, Makar has 180 points (48 goals, 132 assists), and is third among the players selected in the 2017 draft, behind the Canucks center. Elias Peterson (221 points) and Hesshire (206). But Makar’s average of 1.01 points per game leads the players selected in that draft.
“He can do everything because he has pace, he has a sense of hockey, and he has a great shot,” Hebel said. “He has it all. He’s thick now (5-11, 187). Not sure about his weight but his legs and body, he’s big enough to play with the big guys. They can’t catch him anyway. So it doesn’t matter, he’s very fast. You You watch highlights and it’s one of the standout movies on its own.
“We were kind of in Colorado. We got it and all of a sudden it got things moving now. So Nathan McKinnon’s got the disc now, Miko Rantanenget a tablet now, [Gabriel] Landscog. All these guys get to get the disc out of his zone because he’s great at zone outs and all that stuff. His skate unlocks the ice, but then he can move the disc. He can get it to Nate McKinnon, he can get it to Mikko Rantanen. He’s very good.”
After losing 56 games in 2016-17, and losing three in the 2017 lottery drawing, Avalanche appears to be the biggest winner from the 2017 draft.
“The lucky thing that year, we were looking for a defense man, so [Makar] “It fits what we’re looking for,” Hebel said. You never choose for your needs, but you choose the best player, and we kind of said we got both.
“We had a need and chose the best player.”