It’s been an eventful year for the Kings’ first-round selection in 2021.
Brandt Clarke started off his 2021-22 season on a down note, as a bout with mononucleosis cost him participation in both the 2021 Rookie Faceoff, as well as NHL training camp a season prior. Back in the OHL, Clarke was named as team captain midway through the season for the Barrie Colts as an 18-year-old, an honor not thrust upon a play with three seasons of junior eligibility all that often.
Clarke called positivity a big part of his leadership style as a captain, something that is a key part of team success and something that starts before the game and carries on through it. Clarke’s positivity was perhaps tested in December, when he was not selected to represent Team Canada at the World Junior championships, despite being considered to be close to a lock by external outlets at the time.
The snub didn’t deter Clarke’s on-ice success, however, as he scored at over a point-per-game pace in the OHL, leading his team with 59 total points in the process. His second half wasn’t without setbacks though, with an eight-game suspension in March and an eventual season-ending, lower-body injury in April, which cost him a chance to participate in the postseason.
Through it all, however, Clarke had an impressive first season as a member of the Kings oorganization and believes he’s made strides in rounding out his overall game since he was selected eighth overall by the Kings one summer prior.
“I think when I was when I was drafted, a lot of people were talking about my offensive capabilities and I’m not saying I let those slip – I still think I’m still getting better in that situation – but my coaches in Barrie really honed in on my defensive play, they wanted me to play against the top guys across the league,” Clarke explained. “That’s [also] what the people in LA were saying to me, they wanted to see of how I handle myself in those kinds of situations, against top guys across the OHL and I really hung in, I think I excelled.”
Clarke’s path then took him to LA Kings development camp, with the opportunity to showcase that overall game against others within the organization’s prospect pool.
A development camp certainly features a wider array of talent than what Clarke faced in the OHL this season. With players owning NHL games at the camp, as well as players who were just drafted and still several years away from the professional ranks, the opportunity was there for Clarke to not only measure up against some higher-caliber players, but impose his style of play in scrimmage settings as well.
“The intensity’s really high, everyone was trying to leave their mark and that’s what you want,” Clarke said of camp. “You want the intensity high, you want to bring your best and that’s what I was trying to do. I’m trying to showcase myself, but also, you know, just be a good teammate around the dressing room and just be a good guy off the ice as well.”
Development camp is, after all, as much about progress and comfort off the ice as it is performance on it.
Clarke certainly took notice of those with NHL experience at the camp, mainly the duo of Tobias Bjornfot and Jordan Spence on the blueline. Both players were regulars at times for the Kings last season, with Bjornfot playing 70 regular-season games and Spence contributing down the stretch and into the first-round series against Edmonton.
The opportunity to not only test himself against that level of talent, but also learn from the way they carry themselves both on and off the ice was a great takeaway for Clarke.
“They’re bringing the intensity, they’re not taking days off, they’re going hard every single skate, every single workout it’s impressive,” he said. “It’s the mentality you’ve got to have if you want to play at the top level and it’s why they’ve stuck. That’s why they’ll have successful careers and that’s just what I want to instill in myself, that’s the kind of attitude I want to have 365 days a year.”
As he moved along, Clarke’s next stop following development camp was Hockey Canada’s summer showcase event, which brought together candidates for both the 2022 and 2023 World Junior Championships, as well as the top Canadians participating at the Under-18 level.
With the best and brightest on the ice together, in one building, not being selected for the original 2022 tournament is in the back of Clarke’s mind, but his focus heading into the camp was pretty simple – play his game.
“There’s always that thing that back your mind, you want to prove people wrong, but I don’t want to let that waver me,” he said. “I’m just going to play my game. It’s made me successful in the past…so I’m just going to stick to my game plan, do what I do and hopefully put a smile on their faces, I guess you could say.”
Brandt Clarke with a nice PPG in today’s U20 vs. U18 scrimmage for @HockeyCanada.#GoKingsGo pic.twitter.com/1yU8LVSybA
— Russell Morgan (@NHLRussell) July 27, 2022
You could say that his game put quite a few smiles on quite a few faces during the most recent scrimmage, between Clarke’s Team Red and the Under-18 select team. After nearly setting up a pair of power-play goals with high-danger passes, Clarke held the zone at the left point, made a man miss as he worked his way towards the net and snapped home the game-winning goal.
It was one sequence and it came in a summer scrimmage game against players younger than he is. That context is needed. But it also offered a glimpse into some of the traits that make Clarke special, namely his hockey sense in the offensive zone, his playmaking vision to create an odd-man opportunity for others and skills with the puck that are rare for a defenseman. Regardless of the context, those are great things to have and he showcased them well.
Assuming that Hockey Canada does not change its mind regarding the tournament coming up in August, the next test for Clarke will come with much sterner competition, when the Kings hit the ice for training camp in September.
Clarke is a wild card when it comes to the NHL roster and his status entering his 19-year-old season is such that he is eligible for either the NHL or the OHL and not the AHL. With a glut of right-handed defensemen, there are certainly no guarantees for a player in that situation, but that won’t stop him from believing in himself to thrive in that situation. How it shakes out, against the highest levels of competition, will be known in six-weeks time.
“I’m really intrigued to see what I’m like in those exhibition games, against those top NHL players,” he said. “It’ll be interesting, but I feel confident in myself. I’ve had some summer skates in Ottawa, with some top pro guys across the NHL and I’ve hung in there, I can still play my game, my creative kind of style, so, I’m confident in myself. I think I’m ready to go.”
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