The Los Angeles Kings announced they had signed a pair of WHL prospects to three-year entry-level contracts on Monday in 18-year-old defenseman Kale Clague (2016 / Second Round / Brandon Wheat Kings) and 19-year-old forward Austin Wagner (2015 / Fourth Round / Regina Pats).Clague, the 5-foot-11, 181-pound Regina, Saskatchewan native, rebounded from a leg injury suffered in a September rookie game against Arizona to post five goals, 38 points and a minus-nine rating in 46 games for a Wheat Kings squad that has 68 points in 66 games.
“He’s very smart. Understands the game,’ said Brent McEwen, the team’s Amateur Scout – Western Canada. “Very quick reads, moves the puck really quickly, very efficiently, and his skating, he can be very elusive, he can get away from pressure, he can create time for himself.”
A left-handed shooter, Clague earned a spot on Canada’s World Junior team after an injury forced Phillippe Myers out of the tournament and ultimately earned big minutes late in the tournament as an multi-situational defenseman. He finished with six assists and a plus-six rating in seven games.
“His instincts for the game are very, very good,” McEwen said of the defenseman he described as “cerebral.” The Los Angeles scout noted how Clague “understands the game” and is capable of using a his skating and smarts to understand where pressure comes from, how to get away from it, create time for himself, where to go with the puck and when to move it. He’s only 5-foot-11, so he’ll need to continue to fill out, and as an 18-year-old drafted out of a major junior league, he’s only eligible to play in the NHL or CHL next season and is virtually assured of a ticket back to Brandon.Wagner, the left-shooting Calgary, Alberta native, stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 185 pounds. As part of an elite offensive group on a dominant Regina Pats team that leads the WHL with 98 points in 65 games, the winger possesses what multiple team sources have described as the best speed at any level within the organization.
This year, only one of his 28 goals was scored on the power play. He has five shorthanded goals, a plus-45 rating and 60 total points in 58 games.
“Every year he’s made really good progress,” McEwen said. “His speed is the absolute best in the league. There’s no question about that. He’s learning how to use it better.”
McEwen also credited both the developmental staff for doing a very good job with the prospect over the past two years, as well as Wagner for buying in and working hard over the summer.
Like many players with his speed, Wagner must continue to learn how to make reads and decisions at a high pace. On a team with Anaheim first rounder Sam Steel and Toronto Maple Leafs over-age prospect Adam Brooks, he’s a responsible north-south skater with a good shot who can turn opposing defensemen around quickly.
From Rob Vanstone, Regina Leader Press (Austin Wagner’s wheels are a big deal)
Hobbs was then asked, semi-jokingly, if he is relieved to be one of the few WHL defencemen who does not have to worry about containing Wagner.
“Absolutely,” a chuckling Hobbs replied. “He’s the fastest guy in the league — possibly the fastest guy in the CHL. I don’t know what you can do, other than just turn and skate as hard as you can and just hope you can catch him. I feel bad for those other D-men in the league.”
The 19-year-old Los Angeles Kings draftee is already in another league, speed-wise. Just ask Paddock, a former NHL coach who knows what kind of skating ability is required at the highest level.
“It’s sort of hard to say unless you’re in it day-to-day, but I know that at least one L.A. scout has said they don’t have anybody like him,” Paddock noted. “That doesn’t mean he’s going right to Los Angeles — probably far from it — but he’s an elite skater. He’s got elite speed.”
Next season Wagner will be a 20-year-old drafted out of a major junior league, so he will be eligible to play in either Ontario, where he’ll look to earn a roster spot, or Regina, where he is eligible to be returned for an over-age season.
The deadline to sign major-junior based players from the 2015 NHL Draft is June 1, and Wagner, who joined the Ontario Reign as a Black Ace last season and took part in rookie games against Arizona prior to the 2016-17 regular season, was considered among the likelier contract-eligible players from his Kings draft class to sign. Other 2015 draftees with an impending deadline to sign include fifth rounder Matt Schmalz, a six-foot-six forward who registered a goal and an assist over three games in Ontario at the end of last season and has 26 points in 55 games as an overager with OHL-Owen Sound this season, and Chaz Reddekopp, a seventh rounder who has played a stay-at-home game while posting 43 points (10-33=43) in 51 games with WHL-Victoria.