The respect between the NHL's top three rookie defensemen appears to be mutual.
Yet, it's puzzling why one is often being left out of the conversation for the league's most coveted rookie accolade.
On a Zoom call Monday, Adam Fox of the New York Rangers, Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche and Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks spoke about the evolution of the game and how they've been able to achieve instant success.
"There’s a new generation of defensemen coming in — whether they’re just smaller or mobile — but I think everybody’s just going to take a different amount of time to develop," Hughes said. "I think for us, we're all kind of similar builds in terms of our height and stuff. ... I think the game is just changing. It's becoming faster and definitely a more agile sport."
The trio is undersized by traditional standards, with all three under 6-feet tall, and each entered the league with reputations as "offensive defensemen."
They lived up to it by producing points in short order.
Hughes led all rookies, regardless of position, with 53 points, while Makar had 50 and Fox notched 42. However, much of the debate surrounding the Calder Trophy, which is awarded to the league's best rookie, has focused on Hughes and Makar.
In a writers' poll from NHL.com, Makar received the most votes, adding to a total of 82 points, with Hughes right behind him at 77. Fox finished a distant seventh with 11 points, but the objective numbers suggest he should be much closer.
Points are the first place most look, where Fox is slightly behind the pace of Makar and Hughes. Makar missed a handful of games due to injury but averaged the most at 0.88 per game, with Hughes at 0.78 and Fox at 0.6.
But it's worth noting that Makar and Hughes spent most of the season on their respective team's top power-play units, while Fox played on unit No. 2 for the Rangers. Another skilled defenseman, Tony DeAngelo, took on the responsibility as New York's main power-play quarterback.
That led to a discrepancy in special teams scoring opportunities, with Hughes collecting 25 power-play points — nearly half of his season total — and 18 for Makar. Fox posted 13 in a more limited role.
And then there's the other key aspect of being a defenseman — which is, quite simply, defending.
There are basic stats that show Fox was more active in the defensive zone, as he accumulated more blocked shots (92) and takeaways (57) than the other two. Makar had 47 blocks and 34 takeaways, while Hughes was nearly even with 46 blocks and 35 takeaways (albeit in 11 more games played).
The advanced stats also favor Fox. His defensive rating, which according to Evolving Hockey combines even-strength and short-handed defensive metrics, is a 2.9. It's 1.3 for Makar and only 0.2 for Hughes.
None of the three are going to be confused with an imposing, lockdown defender like Zdeno Chara, but they are ushering in a new era of smaller defensemen who skate well and move the puck with efficiency. They rely on smarts and skill over brawn.
Overall, Makar was a slight notch above the other two this season, which is why I picked him as USA TODAY's hypothetical Calder winner. But the impact on the game — and ability to transition to the NHL seamlessly — is something the trio deserves near-equal credit for.
They certainly seem to feel that way, with Fox earning praise from both Hughes and Makar.
"I remember watching him when I was 16 or 17 and thinking how good he was," Hughes said of Fox. "I’ve watched him for a while, and it’s been fun to see."
In many respects, they've changed the way the league views NCAA defensemen. All three went straight from college to the NHL without any time in the minors.
"There’s a lot of physical attributes that college allows you to work on and grow there," Fox said. "You’re not just going there to play for a year and leave. Sometimes, it’s two, three or four years. It really lets yourself jump into the NHL and be ready for it."
Their similar paths, along with comparable builds and skill sets, ensure Fox, Hughes and Makar will be connected for a long time.
The final vote for the Calder should reflect that.