Now what? That’s the obvious question surrounding Kings rookie Brandt Clarke.
Saturday night in Ontario, the 19-year-old defenseman finished up his two-week conditioning assignment. He’s not eligible to stay with the Ontario Reign, so it’s either back to the OHL or stay in LA with the Kings for the balance of the season.
Not so fast, though.
As previously reported, Team Canada is set to announce their 2023 World Junior selection camp roster on Thursday, December 1. From what we’ve learned, there is expected to be a conversation this week between Clarke, Kings management, and Team Canada officials to discuss the possibility of him playing at the upcoming WJC.
It’s an interesting option, as Clarke and Canada have (at least publicly) had a somewhat questionable relationship over the past two years. He helped his home country win gold at the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship. This tournament is typically the precursor to the more well-known U-20s, commonly referred to as simply the World Juniors. Already the best offensive defenseman in the OHL by a fairly wide margin, Clarke was not invited to Canada’s WJC selection camp last December. It was move that was heavily criticized, especially by Canadian media.
Clarke just got Toffoli'd.
TT73 went through the same thing. Leading goal scorer in the OHL back then and was left behind 2 years in a row.
Anybody can argue Canada invited better Dmen to camp (that's what Twitter is for). Yet, very difficult to state there are 6 better Dmen. https://t.co/QPMUrjGfBc
— The Mayor | Team MM (@mayorNHL) November 30, 2021
Ultimately, that tournament was postponed until August 2022. Clarke was invited to a pre-tournament camp, yet again wasn’t part of the team that went on to play in the 2022 WJC in Edmonton. At the time, Team Canada officials explained that the pre-tournament camp was more of an evaluation camp for the 2022 and 2023 events. And they added that the rationale behind not taking Clarke to the 2022 event was they wanted to give the older group of players their last chance at playing for gold. That was all well and good on the surface. Yet, many again wondered why they didn’t take the six or seven best defensemen. Many scouts who attended the camp — not just those on LA’s payroll — reported Clarke was head and shoulders better than nearly every other player in camp.
True to form, though, Clarke took the whole thing in stride when we discussed it with him the following month:
On the whole Team Canada experience, and if it’s become a chip on his shoulder that he didn’t get an opportunity to play at the World Juniors:
I don’t know. I feel like it gave me time to develop, time to hone in with my great training group back home. I never really looked at it as a negative; I looked at it as a positive. It gave me more time to rehab and more time to be around the pros that I was training with in Ottawa. If I look at it as a negative and I get down on myself, that’s not beneficial for anybody, I don’t think. I’m just a positive person. I try to take the positives out of everything.
It’s also something Kings Director of Amateur Scouting, Mark Yannetti, spoke at length about during an extended interview on Kings Of The Podcast a few months ago:
Kings Of The Podcast: Ep. 134 – Mark Yannetti Returns, Summer Recap and Camp Previews
Moving forward, the assumption is Kings management — and perhaps Clarke, as well — is likely seeking clarity on how Canada may intend to use their 2021 first round selection at the upcoming WJC in Halifax.
Timing will be tricky here. Canada’s pre-tournament camp doesn’t open until December 9 in Moncton. Should Clarke be ticketed to go, we wouldn’t expect him to play for the Kings prior to camp. Clarke is at nine NHL games playing this season, and his next game will activate the first year of his Entry Level Contract. Thus, GM Rob Blake would almost surely want to wait until after the WJC to officially decide if he’s going to keep Clarke up for the balance of the season. Playing Clarke in just a few games before sending him to the World Juniors just wouldn’t make a lot of sense on the surface.
Having played the final game of his AHL stint yesterday, that means Clake will only be practicing for nearly two weeks before that camp begins.
So, fast forward a bit… assuming Clarke joins Canada for the WJC, that tournament ends on January 5, 2023. At that point, the Kings will have 40 regular season games remaining on their 2022-23 schedule. If he was roughly targeted for around 45 games this season, he could conceivably play in the majority of the second-half for coach Todd McLellan and still come in around that number.
[Note: there is a 40-game clause that is often referenced, with teams not wanting to go over that number so they don’t burn a later year of free agency. Yet, if Clarke stays up this season, it probably won’t come into play. He would easily pass that number. In this case, the 40 regular season games that count toward service time aren’t linked to games played. It’s being on the NHL roster for 40 games that the team plays. So even being hurt or scratched still counts towards the 40 games.]
If Clarke returns to the NHL after World Juniors, would the Kings be able to get him enough playing time for his development? To do so, they’d likely need to make a trade from their current group of defensemen to make that a little easier.
There’s also the Barrie factor. A few days after the WJC ends in January, the OHL Trade Deadline will arrive. Could the Colts — currently third in their division, with games in hand — load up for a possible playoff run? And if they did, how would that impact Blake’s decision, if at all?
As of a month ago, the plan was to keep Clarke up in the NHL this season. Our sources indicate, the team is very pleased with his developmental track, especially his attitude and practice habits.
In 9 games with the Kings, Clarke has recorded two assists and was averaging around 14 minutes per night. During his five games in the AHL, he recorded one goal and one assist.
Previously, he was named to the OHL’s First All-Rookie Team in 2021, after leading all rookie defensemen in scoring with six goals and 32 assists. Last season, he had 59 points in 54 games for Barrie.
One Game Left: Clarke Talks Greene, O’Donnell, and Ontario Reign Experience
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I hope he gets selected, because as I have previously said, and will continue to say that he has the most talent of any other defensive prospect. But I still think he’s way too small to play with men after he hits the gym and grows into his body. If the kings were still in that weird rebuild mode, then he definitely would be playing. Unfortunately for Brandt there is no room and I can’t get around his size. He is the future of the Kings blue line, but no reason to rush him. I learned that from your articles, KOTP, and just experience, except for Drew Doughty. “Defensemen take longer to develop.” Go Kings and sad to hear about Akil Thomas.