As this season had many unusual twists and turns due to COVID-19, we are leading this draft series coverage with one such prospect who had to make major adjustments to get an opportunity to play.
Currently slated to occur on July 23-24, the NHL Entry Draft this season faces a series of new challenges for teams and players alike. Leagues, such as the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), have still not started as of this writing. The OHL remains one of the top suppliers of NHL talent, with 31 out of the 217 picks (14.3%) coming from this league alone in the 2020 Draft.
Because of the lack of availability, NHL teams have missed out on the opportunity to watch players from the OHL. Conversely, draft hopefuls do not get any sort of playing time or exposure to improve their draft stock.
Enter Brandt Clarke, who had to improvise to get ice time.
Date of Birth: February 9, 2003
Weight: 181 lbs
Clarke played the entirety of the 2020-21 season for HC Nove Zamky in the top Slovakia league. He accumulated 15 points (5 G, 10 A) in 26 contests.
Often mentioned was the adjustment period top prospects from Europe have to endure when they wish to cross the pond to play in North America. The inverse proved to be the case for the native of Ottawa, Ontario, as he had multiple major changes to endure. On top of living in a different country, Clarke also moved from playing against 16–20-year-olds to staring down adults and professionals.
While the adjustment was undoubtedly difficult for the young defenseman, Clarke was not alone. He had the companionship of his older brother, Graeme (a third-round pick in 2019 by the Devils) as they laced up their skates together for Nove Zamky.
He Can Put In a Good Word, Right?
Due to the outbreak of COVID, Clarke did not have an opportunity to compete against peers internationally, such as with the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. However, he has been named to Canada’s U-18 WJC Team. Kings fans should hopefully remember the name Mike Stothers – he will serve as one of Canada’s assistant coaches.
Rankings by Independent Scouting Services
The Draft Analyst, Sixth. “Within days of arriving in Europe in late December, Clarke suited up for HC Nové Zámky and logged nearly 23 minutes of ice without any noticeable signs of rust or ineffectiveness. It took him awhile to impact the scoresheet from an individual standpoint, as Clarke didn’t register a point in 17 of his first 21 games. Nonetheless, he still played 19:40 a game while being used on their middle pairing (usually partnered with lefty Peter Mikus) and quarterbacking the top power-play unit. Clarke caught fire in his final five games (2 goals, 6 assists) to end up leading all Nové Zámky defenders with a 0.58 points-per-game average, and he also fired an impressive 3.04 shots per game.”
Last Word On Hockey, Fourth. “Brandt Clarke has the potential to become a dynamic offensive defenceman going forward. He could become a franchise-changing player, as well as compete for the Norris Trophy while in his prime if he reaches his ceiling. Of course, this is no guarantee. Clarke needs to continue his development, especially in the defensive end of the ice. However, his outstanding skating ability, ability to produce offence and hockey intelligence are all high-end. Clarke has some experience playing against men, so he could challenge for a spot in camp next year, but it is more likely that a little more time in junior is needed. His game is reminiscent of Erik Karlsson, however, this is a stylistic comparison only and not one based on skill or potential.”
Bob McKenzie’s Mid-Season Rankings, Sixth. “Even though scouts say Clarke has a bit of an awkward-looking skating stride, he’s perceived to be very much in the mix as a contender for top defenceman in this year’s draft. One scout ranked him as high as No. 2 overall in our TSN survey and he plays a high-end two-way game that is based on what another scout described as “genius level” hockey sense.”
See For Yourself
Here’s a highlight reel of some of Clarke’s play during the COVID-interrupted season.
The question constantly rages on in pre-draft discussions: go for a player with better numbers in a weaker league or go for the one with worse numbers against men? This was the topic between Byfield and Stutzle, Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, and so forth. Here’s the answer: there is no correct answer.
Ultimately, if the Kings have the opportunity to pick Clarke, and should they proceed forward with doing so, they will get a defenseman who is arguably more battle-ready than a large chunk of the draft class. That’s not to say he would fit in immediately – drafting is only the beginning of the process. They have to nurture a player’s skills to give them the best opportunity to succeed.
A player like Tobias Bjornfot also played against men. He has handled himself well out of the gate in the NHL, yet he was set up to anchor the top pairing in the AHL. Clarke may have the talent and potential to fit in the NHL right away, or a team may want to give him time in the AHL.
This is where things get tricky with Clarke, though. He is currently on loan in Europe due to COVID making the OHL halt its start to the season. While he’s not technically being drafted out of the OHL, the Kings would face a quandary similar to what they could have faced with Byfield – is it better to let him overpower arguably weaker competition in the OHL for the 2021-22 season? Or do they want to get him into the NHL and try to use savvy roster moves to have as much control over him while they can?
Clarke has the talent. He has the upside to challenge for a top-4 role very early into his career. A skilled, right-handed shot would bolster the defense corps for years to come.
NOTE: David Hofreiter was the lead contributor in the gathering of information used in this article. You can find him on Twitter @Davidenkness to talk more hockey.