The Colorado Avalanche’s Cale Makar, Vancouver Canucks’ Quinn Hughes and New York Rangers’ Adam Fox are three of the brightest young defensemen in the league. A common experience they all went through was playing college hockey before making the move to the NHL.
Makar had a slightly different path to the University of Massachusetts, where he spent two seasons including winning the 2019 Hobey Baker Award for the best men’s player in NCAA hockey.
After getting selected in the Western Hockey League draft, the Calgary native turned down the chance to play junior hockey and decided to go stateside.
“I think when it came down to it, it wasn’t too hard,” Makar said. “Fortunately for me, I just had a lot of friends and family that went the NCAA route and the junior route as well and I kind of compared both in terms what I thought would benefit me the most. I think I ended up at a great place there at UMass.”
Over the course of two seasons with the Minutemen, Makar totaled 70 points in 74 games leading UMass to the national championship game in the 2018-19 season.
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He said going to college was the right choice for him and represented some of the best years of his life so far.
“For me at the time, I was just a smaller guy and I think college just gives you an opportunity to work on your body and mental side off the ice more,” Makar said. “It kind of gives you a longer trajectory to get where you want to go so I felt that for me it was the right decision at the time.”
For Hughes, the decision to attend college was more straightforward. His parents played college hockey, making the path attractive to him.
“I grew up in a house with two parents that went to U.S. schools to play college hockey so it was something they always pushed for us,” Hughes said. “As an American kid, that was something I always wanted to do. Once I made the NTDP (USA Hockey National Team Development Program), I knew I wanted to go to school after those two years.”
At the University of Michigan, Hughes tallied 62 points in 69 games over two seasons including winning Big Ten Rookie of the Year in 2017-18.
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Fox attended Harvard and spent three seasons with the Crimson becoming the fourth defenseman in school history to reach 100 career points. He also broke the single-season school record for points scored by a defenseman (48 in his junior season).
He believes the physical toughness of college hockey helped prepare him for the NHL.
“I think there’s a lot of physical attributes that college allows you to work on and grow there. You’re not just going there to play for a year and leave,” Fox said. “Sometimes it’s two, three or four years and really let yourself jump into the NHL and be ready for it. I think college does a good job of allowing for that.”
The three have been standouts on their current teams. Makar, who scored in his NHL debut in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, has put up 50 points in 57 games this season with the Avalanche. Hughes has scored 53 points in 68 games in Vancouver with Fox tallying 42 points in 70 games with the Rangers.
Their success in college laid the foundation for their NHL careers.
“I think we were all lucky. We all went to good spots, good situations. Speaking for the other guys, but we all had coaching staffs that probably believed in us and put us in the right situations and spots,” Hughes said. “For me, going from college to the NHL, you obviously believe in yourself and you hope you’re ready but you never really know so you just kind of hope that you’re going into a good spot and it all just kind of works out.”