It's been widely reported Friday that Kings 2021 8th overall pick Brandt Clarke will be heading back to the OHL.
Clarke played nine games at the beginning of the season before a succession of healthy scratches and an eventual conditioning stint with the Ontario Reign. He posted two assists and a -1 plus/minus during his nine games with the Kings. In his five games with the Reign, he posted one goal, one assist and a -3 rating.
This took him to the beginning of December when the Kings announced he would be allowed to join Team Canada for the World Junior Championships. After being left off of last year's team, this was an excellent opportunity for Clarke to experience the World Juniors.
He finished the tournament with eight points in seven games, including a secondary assist on Dylan Guenther's golden goal against Czechia.
For many fans, this news comes as a disappointment, but it shouldn't be a surprise. The Kings simply don't have room on their roster for Clarke right now and would have to make at least one trade to fit him in. And the front office has not given any indication of interest in that option.
With Sean Walker's recent improvement, sending Clarke to the OHL makes sense. And I know fans will say trading Walker to make room for Clarke is the best option, but even in that scenario, Clarke isn't next in line. Jordan Spence is above Clarke in the depth chart and would take Walker's spot.
It's a reality of where the Kings are at right now. Their goal is to compete for a playoff spot and beyond, which requires them to ice the best 18 skaters they have every night. And right now, Clarke isn't in that group. If the Kings were still in full rebuild mode, Clarke could play 15-plus minutes a night and significant power-play time, but that isn't where the team is at.
Is sending Clarke to the OHL the best thing for his development? Probably not, he's already dominated at that level and won't gain much from that experience. But it will do more for his development than sitting in the press box with the Kings.
Looking toward the future, the Kings will have to make some tough decisions this summer on the blue line. Walker is signed through the 2023-24 season, Spence shouldn't spend another season in the AHL and Sean Durzi needs to move back to his natural right-side at some point. Even if the Kings wanted to run six right-shot defensemen, they don't and won't, they would need to move a player.
That's another conversation for another day though.