The sports world is filled with endless analogies, idioms, and metaphors.
For 19-year-old Brandt Clarke, the past 15 months have been about clearing hurdles and passing tests.
Step one? Get drafted by an NHL team. That took place on July 23, 2021 when the LA Kings selected him eighth overall.
He missed NHL Rookie Camp a few months later when he came down with mono. He also missed out on playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships after being left off the roster in December — despite being one of the highest scoring defensemen in the OHL at the time. As if those weren’t bitter enough pills to swallow, his season with the Barrie Colts was ultimately cut short by knee surgery.
Update: Told LA Kings prospect Brandt Clarke will have surgery this week. Based on what surgeon finds, best case scenario: Barrie gets him back late 2nd / early 3rd round (if they continue to advance). If not, recovery time should still allow him to attend LA Dev Camp in July. https://t.co/ctpEI2s94X
— The Mayor | Team MM (@mayorNHL) April 20, 2022
From there, it’s been a steady diet of positive news.
Clarke was one of the true bright spots at Development Camp this past July, and his momentum continued to build in the weeks ahead. As Mark Yannetti recently discussed during his extended interview on Kings Of The Podcast, Clarke received universal praise for his time at Team Canada’s 2023 WJC Evaluation Camp in late July. Depending what happens over the next few months — more on that in a moment — he’s considered to be a strong contender for the next edition of the WJC, which will kick off on December 26.
— Eric (@kingsgifs2) September 18, 2022
Riding the tidal wave into Kings Rookie Camp didn’t seem to bother young Clarke, as he earned top billing at the Rookie Faceoff event in San Jose — leading all players in shots on goal at the four-day tournament — and then continued to play nearly every preseason game for coach Todd McLellan once main camp opened up.
GM Rob Blake shared quite a bit of thoughts on Clarke and his developing situation heading into Opening Night earlier this month (see here).
After Game 1 of his NHL career, McLellan had this to say:
Coach reflected on Brandt Clarke’s debut tonight against Seattle 👇 pic.twitter.com/8nrMvUC9HO
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 14, 2022
Through six games played in the NHL, Clarke’s ice time has been fairly consistent, averaging 13:41 per game:
Game 1 vs. SEA – 15:17
Game 2 vs. MIN – 12:29
Game 3 vs. DET – 10:45
Game 4 vs. NSH – 12:41
Game 5 vs. PIT – 17:10
Game 6 vs. WSH – 13:43
Perhaps most impressive, though — since he went into the lineup, he hasn’t come out.
However, per NHL rules, once he plays his 10th game this season, the Kings will have “burned” the first year of his Entry Level Contract. And for a team up against the cap, you want to use those low-cost deals sparingly because they give you some roster flexibility in other places.
That leaves three more games before Blake and the team have to make their final decision. Yet, from what we’re hearing, that is merely a formality. Accounting to our sources, expectations are that Clarke will be staying up with the club. They believe he can help them win this year and appear confident they can find the proper amount of playing time to aid in his ongoing development. In fact, it’s something Blake even hinted at in the aforementioned article — where he specifically referenced leaning into the experience of assistant coaches Trent Yawney and Jim Hiller, who have previously helped break other young defensemen into NHL life.
With an assist on this Grundstrom goal, Brandt Clarke has scored his first NHL point! pic.twitter.com/CRg2uduU6F
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 21, 2022
Clarke’s offensive abilities have never been in question. A few nights ago in Pittsburgh he even picked up his first NHL point, assisting on a Carl Grundstrom power play goal. At some point, he’ll pot one of his own. Nobody is too worried at the moment; he’s only averaging one shot on goal per game.
Once knocked for his skating style, there have been noticeable improvements since he was first selected by LA a little over a year ago – especially in the defensive zone. As he continues to earn the trust of McLellan and the coaches, he’s expected to see an uptick in his power play time. Most nights, his TOI with the extra attacker has been limited to under a minute.
With his game rounding into form at the NHL level, Clarke looks to be sticking around for the season. What that means for the WJC in December is a topic that will have to wait, for now.
One thing at a time.
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