The sports world is full of endless analogies, idioms and metaphors.
For 19-year-old Brandt Clarke, the past 15 months have been about overcoming hurdles and passing exams.
Step one? Get drafted by an NHL team. That happened on July 23, 2021 when the LA Kings picked him eighth overall.
A few months later, he missed NHL rookie camp when he contracted mono. He also missed out on playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships after being dropped from the roster in December – despite being one of the highest-scoring defenders in the OHL at the time. As if those pills weren’t bitter enough to swallow, his season with the Barrie Colts was eventually cut short by knee surgery.
Update: I was told that LA Kings’ Brandt Clarke will have surgery this week. Based on surgeon’s findings, best case scenario: Barrie retrieves him in late 2nd/early 3rd round (if they keep advancing). If not, recovery time should still allow him to attend LA Dev Camp in July. https://t.co/ctpEI2s94X
— The Mayor | Team MM (@mayorNHL) April 20, 2022
From then on, it’s been a steady diet with good news.
Clarke was one of the real bright spots at development camp last July and his momentum continued to build over the coming weeks. As Mark Yannetti mentioned in his recent in-depth interview on Kings Of The Podcast, Clarke received universal praise for his time at Team Canada’s 2023 WJC Evaluation Camp in late July. Depending on what happens in the next few months – more on that in a moment – he is considered a strong contender for the next edition of the WJC, which begins on December 26th.
Brandt Clarke Shootout winner#LAKings #GoKingsGo pic.twitter.com/u6lUd7oQu6
— Eric (@kingsgifs2) September 18, 2022
Riding the tidal wave to Kings Rookie Camp didn’t seem to bother young Clarke, as he took top honors at the Rookie Faceoff event in San Jose, which led all players in shots on goal throughout the four-day tournament and then played on almost every one Pre-season game for coach Todd McLellan once main camp opens.
GM Rob Blake shared some thoughts on Clarke and his evolving situation before heading to opening night earlier this month (read here).
After Game 1 of his NHL career, McLellan had this to say:
The manager reflected on Brandt Clarke’s debut tonight against Seattle 👇 pic.twitter.com/8nrMvUC9HO
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 14, 2022
Now, after playing six games in the NHL, here are some stats on Clarke:
time on ice
Game 1 vs. SEA – 15:17
Game 2 vs MIN – 12:29
Game 3 vs DET – 10:45
Game 4 vs. NSH – 12:41
Game 5 vs. PIT – 17:10
Game 6 vs. WSH – 13:43
Since he went into the lineup, he hasn’t come out.
However, under NHL rules, the Kings will have “burned up” the first year of his entry-level contract once he plays his 10th game this season. And for a team competing against the cap, use these cheap offers sparingly, as they give you some flexibility in the roster elsewhere.
That leaves three more games before Blake and the team have to make their final decision. But from what we’re hearing, Clarke tends to stay at the club. They believe he can help them win this year and seem confident they will find the right amount of playing time to support his continued development. In fact, Blake even pointed it out in the aforementioned article — where he specifically cited the experience of assistant coaches Trent Yawney and Jim Hiller, who have previously helped bring other young defensemen into NHL life.
An assist on this Grundstrom goal earned Brandt Clarke his first NHL point! pic.twitter.com/CRg2uduU6F
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 21, 2022
Clarke’s offensive skills were never questioned. He even got his first NHL point a few nights ago in Pittsburgh assisting on a Carl Grundstrom power play goal. Eventually he’ll pot one himself. Nobody is too worried right now; He averages just one shot on goal per game.
Once tapped for his skating style, there have been noticeable improvements — particularly in the defensive zone — since his initial pick by LA just over a year ago. As he continues to earn the trust of McLellan and the coaches, he is expected to see an increase in his power play time. Most nights his TOI was limited to less than a minute with the additional attacker.
With his game on form at the NHL level, Clarke looks set to stick around for the season. What that means for December’s WJC is a topic that will have to wait for now.
One after the other.
Kings Of The Podcast: S2, E15 – With Trent Yawney
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