When Kings rookie Brandt Clarke was scratched from Tuesday night’s home opener, many were left wondering — ‘What’s the plan for LA’s 2021 first round pick, when will he make his NHL debut?’
Things have been developing quickly over past few days. Let’s take a quick step back before looking ahead on this situation. Over the weekend, Mayor’s Manor broke the news Clarke would be named to the Kings Opening Night group of 23 players. Soon thereafter, GM Rob Blake joined Kings Of The Podcast for his traditional season preview, and it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to his 19-year-old blueliner.
“Brandt had a real good, a real strong camp,” Blake began. “Unfortunately, last year, having been diagnosed with mono right before training camp, we really didn’t get to see him. Then, we brought him out [to LA] after the Barrie Colts were eliminated in the playoffs, but he had a knee injury that required surgery; that kept him out. So, we never really had a hands-on view of him, by any means. [There were] lots of expectations when he came into camp and lived up to it. He’s fit in. I think one of the big things going forward was the way he played – very creative, very deceptive. But what we wanted to make sure – ‘Is he going to compete hard enough? Was he going to be coachable? Was he going to listen to what Trent Yawney and Todd McLellan were preaching? Would he buy into the system?’ And that’s been way above, I think, any expectations any of us had on him. So, he’s earned his chance.”
Indeed. Now what, though?
“It’s still a situation that’s going to evolve here. We have to make sure that when he’s in the lineup that he’s getting the reasonable amount of minutes to keep developing. If you look, a lot of it will probably rely on Trent Yawney and just his previous experiences with young D in the other organizations he’s been in, and how he’s been able to take them and get them minutes. He talks about it all the time, ‘Listen, he’s as good as some of the players in the NHL at making plays, he’s deceptive, he can show that he can be there. We just have to make sure we’re continually getting him the minutes that will help him develop. It’s an ongoing situation. The first step was getting through training camp and he’s going to get his reps here during the regular season now.”
Which gets to the all-important question then – what’s the specific plan, if there is one?
“I don’t know if we have anything in concrete right now,” Blake continued. “There are a couple things that go [into it]. We have to get Sean Walker and Sean Durzi up to speed with their injury. … Those injuries were long-term, and especially Walker’s situation. So, he’s going to have to get his reps and everything in there. Getting Brandt into the lineup will be the first step, then managing his minutes and seeing how the games go, and the pace of the regular season. There is a big difference between training camp, preseason games, and the regular season. We’ll have to monitor it. I don’t think we have a plan set in place. We’re fortunate, [not only] with Trent Yawney, but also with [new assistant coach] Jim Hiller. He went through this with the Islanders, with a young defenseman in Noah Dobson. I think it was his 19-year-old year in the NHL; just with how they used him early on until he got into the lineup. We’re going have to use some of those experiences.”
As Mike Tyson once famously said, ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’
While some might call Tuesday’s night’s loss to the visiting Vegas Golden Knights a gut-punch moment, it did come with one with positive. Most NHL coaches don’t like to change their lineup coming off of a win. And the Kings likely wouldn’t want Clarke sitting out a second game, as the longer he waits to make his NHL debut to more the nerves ramp up. This allows McLellan the perfect opportunity to slide Clarke in on Thursday night vs. Seattle.
Expecting 92 to debut 10/13
— The Mayor (@mayorNHL) October 12, 2022
Where might Clarke play; on which D pairing and with what partner?
The obvious choices come down to replacing Durzi and Walker. However, the challenge likely comes down to minutes. Start with the idea that Clarke would probably enter action from the third pairing, perhaps alongside Alex Edler. While it’s easy for some to want Durzi out given his snafu at the end of Tuesday’s game, is bumping Walker up to the second pair right now really a better option, given any rust coming off a year-long absence?
We shall see.
Until McLellan tips his hand, be sure to catch the entire Blake interview at the link below.
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