LOS ANGELES — Brandt Clarke has arrived. The 19-year-old, former eight-overall pick has played all but one of the King’s opening eight games and is close to breaching the all-important nine-game mark. He’s been a bright spot early in the season and has more to come.
He started his case for making the roster early, with four points in three games at the San Jose Rookie Faceoff tournament, followed by an excellent preseason. After not making the opening roster, he played the next eight games and caught the eye of head coach Todd McLellan.
“The fact that the kid (Clarke) is really pushing and doing some good things is another bonus for all of us,” McLellan added. “He’s a cerebral player, he sees things, he anticipates well, he’s a great passer. He plays with some risk in his game, which isn’t a bad thing, and he’s very competitive.”
He’s averaging 13:41 of ice time, playing in a more sheltered third-pairing role early in his career. Even with limited minutes, his confidence and composure on the puck have been on full display, far exceeding what you would expect from a 19-year-old rookie. His assist on Blake Lizotte’s goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning is the standout example of this composure. Looking off a shot opportunity before sliding the puck back door for Lizotte to deposit his first of the season. While he’s impressed, according to Clarke there’s still another level to reach.
“I feel like I’ve trended upwards since the rookie tournament and intrasquad games and now the exhibition games. I feel like I haven’t really missed a step, I’m confident in how I’m playing. I just want to keep this up, I feel like I have another level too take it to as well. I’m going to try and find that at the right time.” On that next level, Clarke said. “Definitely capitalizing on opportunities, capitalizing more on powerplays, just being more up in the rush and shutting guys down early not letting them even get into the zone. In juniors, it’s pretty simple for me, but here it’s always in the back of your mind, like, you’re playing against Jack Eichel and he might burn you. I’m maybe erring on the side of caution in some situations but I feel like while I get more confidence and more reps it will become more natural.”
After two scratches, Clarke reached the all-important nine-game mark on Tuesday against the Dallas Stars. General Manager Rob Blake will have to make a decision on Clarke’s future and I’d be surprised if that decision saw him back in the OHL. He’s more than held his own, averaging 13:14 of ice time, and is growing with each game. Sending him to the OHL would do little for his development, as he’s proven to be an NHL-caliber defenseman, but Blake gets more contract flexibility by sending him down.
Keeping him on the roster makes trading one of the team’s many right-shot defensemen more likely, one of Sean Durzi or Sean Walker. It’s never ideal to move good players, but for a player like Clarke, you make an exception. He’s the future of the Kings blueline and the future is now.