For defenseman Kale Clague, this week will probably stir up thoughts of being a new kid on campus. He’ll be meeting the incoming principal (Todd McLellan) for the first time and he’ll be surround by a bunch of new faces at training camp – from Sean Durzi to Tobias Bjornfot. Regardless, coming off a season that found him on the doorstep of an NHL call-up only to have it evaporate due to an injury, Clague has spent most of his summer counting down the days until he returns to Los Angeles.
“I’m excited to get things going, for sure,” he told us during a recent conversation.
Limited to just 52 AHL games during the 2018-19 season – his fewest since 2014-15 when he was breaking into the WHL — Clague is like a racehorse fidgeting in the starting gate; eager to showcase his skills for the new leadership group in what should be a pivotal season in his young professional career… even if his immediate future is largely unknown.
Clague might be playing games in the NHL next month or he could just as easily start the year with AHL Ontario (something we broke down in detail here). Last September, Clague was one of the few bright spots during a tumultuous Kings training camp. In fact, he played in three preseason games, even picking up a point in every contest. Oddly enough, though, all of the games were on the road.
“Yeah, I’ve never played at Staples Center; I’ve never even seen the rink,” he remarked, as we briefly reflected on his 2018 camp experience. “At this point, I almost wish my first game would be played there. It’s obviously taken me so long and I haven’t even played a pre-season game there or anything. We’ll see how this year’s camp shakes out, though. I thought I had solid pre-season last year, so I’m looking to build off of it this year. Playing at Staples Center would just be awesome.”
His first opportunity to skate in Downtown LA could come as early as next Tuesday when the Kings kick off their pre-season schedule with the annual split-squad games vs. the Coyotes. This means half the team will travel to Arizona and the other half stays home to play, giving him a 50/50 chance. Regardless of location, he certainly has a challenge ahead of him over the next few weeks, as he looks to beat out guys like Matt Roy, Sean Walker, Daniel Brickley, and Mikey Anderson for one of the few spots on defense up for grabs on the Kings blueline.
MM: We’ll have plenty of time to talk hockey once camp opens up, let’s first take a quick look back at a cool event you participated in a few weeks back. You and Mikey Anderson were selected to represent the Kings at the NHLPA Summer Showcase – basically where Upper Deck gets to shoot pics of you guys on the ice for their upcoming series of hockey cards. What was that overall experience like?
I know some guys who had attended in the past, so I was aware of the event and sort of what they do while there. Earlier in the summer, somebody from my agency reached out to me to say I’d most likely be going. I waited to hear more, and then in early August they sent over the itinerary and that was kind of the when I fully realized I was going.
It was pretty cool. Obviously, you grow up collecting hockey cards and stuff as a kid — and you see your favorite players on these cards and you dream to be on a card like that one day — but to go and do that is fantastic. To be along with some of the top prospects in the league, being able get to know some new guys and spend a couple days with a couple guys I’ve never met before, it was definitely cool to go through it.
MM: Were you a big card collector growing up or not so much?
I wasn’t like a huge card collector. I know there were a lot of kids who had bundles and bundles, but I wouldn’t say I was quite to that extent. I certainly collected cards and remember opening packs of cards to go through them. You know, you’d get that odd pack with a special player, like a Gretzky or Crosby or someone like that growing up, it was super cool. I guess I just don’t have the huge pile of cards that other guys were mentioning they had growing up. Still, they’re obviously good keepsakes to have. And to maybe see yourself on a playing card someday, you’d obviously want to keep some for yourself and maybe give some to a few family members. Just to be able to have something like that down the road, later in life, would absolutely be pretty cool.
MM: With Anderson, he told me you guys spent quite a bit of time together there – noting it was sort of a first time thing, as you came up through the junior ranks and he was a college product. But now there’s at least the idea that you guys could end up as D partners one day, right?
I definitely didn’t know much about him, but we the event gave us an opportunity to spend a lot of time together, more than we’ve been in LA together a few times. I played against him at the World Juniors, but that’s about it. So it was really good to be able to get know him, especially because I hope to be on the Kings with him sooner rather than later.
We did joke about playing together when we are that NHLPA event. It makes sense in a way. We’re both relatively younger guys, even though I’m a year older than he is. But I definitely think it’s a possibility. I think he is a great player and we have different styles to our game. His strengths are more on the defensive side of things. Sure, he can create offense too, but I think the strength of his game is on defense. I think the strength of my game is more on the offensive side of things. When you pair two defensemen like that, it’s usually a good balance. We’re both left hand shots, but we’ve both played the right side too for a large amount of time. So I think it’s a possibility — hopefully this year or even down the road – and if it happens, that would be pretty cool.
MM: Your game grew substantially last year in the second-half and we get that you’re looking to build on that for a hopeful spot with the Kings in October. Yet, if for certain reasons, you end up starting the season in Ontario, have you looked at how stacked that blueline is going to be?
It’s definitely more solid. I think it’s going to be really young again, but I think there are a lot of good young defensemen in the pipeline and I think it should be a great D-core. There’s lots a skill among the guys who are expected to be with the Reign the season. My goal is to make the Kings, but if it comes to me starting down there, I definitely want to take on a leadership role. I’ve obviously learned quite a bit over the past year, regarding how that league works and whatnot.
Summer training isn't just for shooting drills and pumping iron in the gym.
Apparently, @KaleClague is also working on a new goal celebration.
— John Hoven | The Mayor (@mayorNHL) August 25, 2019
MM: We can’t wrap this up without asking you about the video that surfaced of you doing a stick-riding celebration. We’ve seen some of your goal celebrations, but that wasn’t one of them. Is this something new you’re working on and should we be on the lookout for you to break this out during the preseason?
Very small chance. [Laughter] We were just told to do some celebrations and stuff. Some guys were doing some crazy things and it was just for fun. In the NHL videogame you can ride the stick, so people have seen those types of celebrations. I was just kind of goofing around and I decided to pull that one out. But, I can’t think of a scenario where I would ever do that at the end of a game. I don’t think that would go over well with the coaching staff, so I don’t think that’s a good idea. [More laughter]
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