Cale Makar has become one of the best defensemen in the NHL during his five seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, and his impact is similar to what Miro Heiskanen has made for the Dallas Stars during his six seasons.

That's certainly carried into the first Stanley Cup Playoff series they’ve gone head-to-head in, with the Stars holding a 3-1 lead after a 5-1 victory in Game 4 on Monday. Makar has been held without a point in three straight by Dallas after he had a goal and two assists in Game 1; Heiskanen had a goal and two assists in Game 4 and has seven points (three goals, four assists) in the series.

And it's rare at least one of them isn't on the ice; Makar has averaged 26:59 of ice time in the series, with Heiskanen at 26:28.

As indispensable as each defenseman has become for their team, it almost was Makar starring for Dallas and Heiskanen for Colorado.

The Stars had the No. 3 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft and had Heiskanen and Makar almost even in their internal ranking.

So, after the New Jersey Devils selected center Nico Hischier with the No. 1 pick and the Philadelphia Flyers chose forward Nolan Patrick at No. 2, Dallas was going to get its top choice.

"We wanted a defenseman, that was sort of our goal," Stars director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell said. "So, we were hoping that it would turn out the way it did, with Patrick and Hischier going ahead of Heiskanen, and our next guy was Makar. That was how we had it slated, so it couldn't have worked out any better for us."

The Avalanche felt the same way when Makar was available.

"We kind of found out that Hischier was going [first] and there was a good chance Nolan Patrick was going [second]," said Alan Hepple, the Avalanche director of amateur scouting at the time. "And then it was always that Dallas could have taken Makar, but we're in the fortunate place that if it wasn't Makar, it would have been Heiskanen. It was going to be the best of both worlds."

At the time, Heiskanen was starring for HIFK in Liiga, the top league in Finland, while Makar was playing for Brooks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League and was committed to play at the University of Massachusetts.

"I think it was so close, we would have been happy with either one," McDonnell said. "The thing with [general manager] Jim Nill and myself and a couple other scouts that came from the Detroit organization, Heiskanen gave us a comparison to Nick Lidstrom, so we went off that. So, that's why we went [the] Heiskanen route.

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"The level of play where they played didn't bother us because you could see Makar's skill and knew he'd be a good player as well."

The Avalanche certainly felt strongly about Makar.

"Once the first two names went 1 and 2, you know you're getting a good player," Hepple said. "Is there always a 100 percent guarantee? No. But you know you're getting the player that you think is the best, you're drafting the best player in the draft. Then [when] Heiskanen went No. 3, you hold your breath a little bit, I guess, thinking Makar.

"The lucky thing that year was we were looking for a defenseman, so it kind of fit what we're looking for. You never pick for a need, but you pick the best player and we had both. With the No. 4 pick, we had both. We had a need and we picked the best player."

Each team wouldn’t change how those draft-day decisions have worked out.

Since making his regular-season debut in 2019-20, Makar is second among NHL defensemen in goals (86) and points (336) in 315 games; the Nashville Predators' Roman Josi (88 goals, 338 points) leads him in both categories but has played 31 more games.

This season, Makar was second among NHL defensemen with 90 points (21 goals, 69 assists) in 77 games and is a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the League for the fourth straight season, winning it in 2022.

He's been even better in the playoffs, where his average of 1.10 points per game is second all-time among defenseman behind Bobby Orr (1.24). In 2021-22, he helped the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup with 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) in 20 games. It was the fourth-most points by a defenseman in a single playoff season. Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs.

"Obviously, he's so sound defensively," Colorado forward Ross Colton said. "But in the same breath, you take one foot off the gas, he's 10 steps in front of you with his speed. He's just an all-around player. He's probably the best defenseman in the League by a lot, in my opinion."

The Stars feel the same way about Heiskanen, who has 258 points (53 goals, 205 assists) in 425 games, 14th among NHL defenseman since entering the NHL in 2018-19.

This season, he led Dallas defensemen with 54 points (nine goals, 45 assists) in 71 games.

Heiskanen also has been a big playoff performer. In 2020, he helped the Stars reach the Stanley Cup Final with 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 27 games, a Stars/Minnesota North Stars record and the fifth-most points by a defenseman in a single playoff season.

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"You take him for granted," Dallas coach Pete DeBoer said. "He plays his 27 minutes a night and has the puck on his stick all night and plays against everyone else's best players, runs your power play. You do take him for granted because he is so easy to play and he's out there so much and we ask so much of him.

"I think he goes out and affects the game like that every night for us. It might not result in points and goals, but he has that affect for us on the game every night. Just sometimes it doesn't appear on the score sheet; it's in different ways, either facilitating for other guys or shutting down the other teams' best players. That's our ask of him every night."

It's been an ask of Makar and Heiskanen seemingly every game since they entered the NHL, and each has delivered consistently.

"If you redid the draft the draft, there’d be an argument," said Hepple, who has been director of professional scouting for the Utah NHL team since 2021. "Some people might say Heiskanen. … Makar obviously has hit it out of the park. Heiskanen could be a Norris candidate down the line. Ten years from now, it might sort itself out between the two."

NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this story

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