The LA Kings and Hockey Canada announced today that the Kings have loaned defenseman Brandt Clarke to Team Canada to participate in selection camp for the 2023 World Junior Championships, which begin later this month North of the Border.
Clarke accompanied the Kings on the start of their road trip and was a healthy scratch yesterday as the Kings defeated Ottawa. Clarke did not practice today with the team in Toronto and will now join Team Canada for their pre-tournament selection camp, which begins on Friday in Moncton, New Brunswick.
So far this season, Clarke has skated in 14 professional games, split between the Kings and the AHL’s Ontario Reign. The 19-year-old defenseman has two assists from nine NHL contests and two points (1-1-2) from five games with the Reign, including his first career professional goal on November 20 versus Henderson.
Todd McLellan was asked about Clarke’s progress yesterday in Ottawa and gave a detailed evaluation of where he’s at –
“He’s got an unreal skill set, an offensive mind, very creative, almost an artist-like mentality when he’s on the ice,” Todd McLellan said of Clarke yesterday in Ottawa. “Like any young player, he has to know how to defend a little bit better, get stronger, but Mother Nature is going to help him with some of those things and he’s going to help himself by being around pros day in and day out. Watching how hard to practice, how hard they work, the attention to detail. He’s getting a real good tutorial on that from guys like Alex Edler and Drew Doughty right now. There’s probably learning ground than what he’s in.”
— Ontario Reign (@ontarioreign) November 21, 2022
With regard to how his situation has been handled over the last month or so, there have naturally been a lot of different takes and a lot of different opinions.
From the Kings perspective, they believe in the things that Clarke has learned and lived by being with either the NHL or AHL club each day. He’s practicing with professional players, picking up professinal habits and training in a professional style. What he’s not getting is that top of the lineup role that he naturally would in the OHL. Is the juice worth the squeeze? McLellan believes that it is.
“Sometimes players get rushed and we don’t want to do that with Clarkie,” he said. “There’s the hockey part, and then there’s all of the strength and professional habits, practice habits, travel habits and teammate habits that are really important and you don’t always get that at the junior level when you play 38 minutes a night and you stay on the power play for two straight minutes. I’m not saying that’s happening with Clarkie, they’re a very well-run team [in Barrie], but that can happen in certain situations. Right now, we think that this is a real good spot for him and we’ll see where it goes.”
Where it goes now is that Clarke will have an opportunity to test himself amongst his peers, something he has not done since Rookie Faceoff in San Jose. Clarke has had a winding season, but an eventful one. He’s featured in 23 games in total – 3 with the Kings rookies, 6 during the NHL preseason, 9 during the NHL regular season and 5 during the AHL regular season. Should he make the final roster, Clarke could potentially play in as many as 12 additional games with Team Canada, should they reach the medal rounds and should he dress for each game, exhibition and competitive.
While he was a glaring omission from last season’s gold-medal winning team, the consensus is that Clarke should not only make this year’s squad, but play a prominent role on it. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler projected Clarke in a Top-4 role with Team Canada, while outlets such as The Hockey News and Daily Faceoff had Clarke playing a big role, assuming he was assigned. Now that he has been, it is assumed by most external evaluators that Clarke should be a contributor on this year’s squad.
Logistically speaking, selection camp will include two team practice days – December 9 and December 10 – as well as a pair of exhibition contests against the USports All-Star Team on December 11 and December 12.
Following the selection camp, Team Canada will announce its tournament roster on December 12, so we will know by Monday whether or not Clarke will be a part of Team Canada for the forseeable future. From there, after an off day on December 13, Team Canada will hold a pre-tournament training camp from December 14 through December 18 in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, before it will host Switzerland, Slovakia and Finland in pre-tournament exhibition contests. Canada opens its tournament proper on December 26 versus Czechia.
The tournament opens on December 26 and concludes with the gold and bronze medal games on January 5. The Kings play 14 games between now and then and will be in the midst of an extended stretch on the West Coast when the tournament comes to a close. The organization will have to make one last decision on Clarke at that time, and that’s where he will play his hockey for the second half of the season. There’s a lot of road to drive between now and then. As we saw last season, it would be fruitless to predict what a defensive unit looks like 14 games down any particular road. So, we need to see where things are at when that time comes.
A few notes to follow today from practice in Toronto, Insiders, plus we’ll have a recap from tonight’s Ontario Reign tilt, as they host Henderson. Many more storylines to follow throughout this road trip, which continues tomorrow evening against the Maple Leafs!
Terrific sequence here from Clarke (1⃣5⃣in🟥).
Sets up a Grade-A chance in the slot, draws a defender away to set up a one-timer from the center point then finally holds the zone, dekes his man & snaps home the goal. https://t.co/L5qz5aZ2D1
— Zach Dooley (@DooleyLAK) July 27, 2022