We’re closing out the top-3 in our draft board, and we’ve got another defenseman on deck!
Coming in at third overall is Brandt Clarke, and it’s been a bit of a weird year for him. Clarke played his 2019-20 season with the Barrie Colts of the OHL, but because of the COVID restrictions in Ontario, the OHL didn’t play a season at all this year. So, to make sure he was still able to get some games in, Clarke shipped off to Slovakia for 26 games with Nove Zamky. Unconventional? Yes. But it was a very good season, all the same.
BSH 2021 Community Draft Board, No. 3: Brandt Clarke
Team: HC Nove Zamky (Slovakia)
Statistics: 5 G, 10 A in 26 GP
No. 7 (NA skaters) by NHL Central Scouting
No. 5 by Future Considerations
No. 6 by Dobber Prospects
No. 3 by Wheeler/The Athletic (midseason)
What’s there to like?
One of the real hallmarks of Clarke’s game is his ability to move the puck. He’s a generally pretty smooth skater with good speed and strength on pucks, and with a great first pass, he’s a real force in transition. Whether he’s making a breakout pass or leading the rush himself, he’s confident and decisive in his reads, and doesn’t often find himself flustered by defensive pressure.
On the flip side, his own rush defense is very strong—he’s able to break up plays well in the neutral zone as well as deny entry attempts at the blue line, but when opponents do get a clean entry over the blue line, he does well to keep them to the outside to limit the space that they have to work with. That defensive game is generally quite solid, across the board—with his speed and stick, he’s able to catch up to opponents and gap up well, and while he’s often making an aggressive play, because of his pretty remarkable hockey IQ, it’s usually the right one. He’s not a hugely physical defender, but that’s okay, because more often we see him making the subtle play to break up a play or chance before it happens, and that’s just as effective.
But not to be lost in all of this is the fact that Clarke also possesses a really dynamic offensive game. As we saw in the introduction, was able to pitch in a nice bit of scoring—15 points in 26 games, which is certainly a solid pace for a defenseman in his first season in the league. His toolkit is an exciting one. We mentioned his passing ability already, and we see that coming through just as clearly and effectively when distributing in the offensive zone as on breakouts. He has a hard shot and a quick release, and he’s well able to find lanes and get that shot through traffic from the point, but he also has the soft hands to make a play in tight, when he sees the space to activate in the offensive zone. We see all of this working well for him both at even strength and on the power play, and all of this working together makes him a threat as a playmaker just about at all times.
And, as we mentioned in the introduction, it’s important to note the benefits that Clarke gained from spending this season playing against grown men. Sure, the competition isn't as high as he would have faced playing in the SHL or KHL, for example, but it’s still a professional league, still a step up from the OHL, and he was able to not just hang at this level, but to excel at it. That’s certainly useful experience, and it puts him ahead, developmentally, of many of the players in this draft class.
What’s not to like?
There really is a lot to like about Clarke’s game, but there does remain a bit of a boom or bust element to it. We talked already about his mobility and ability to move up-ice well in transition, but the fact also remains that his skating stride is a little wonky, and that raises some concerns. His base is a little too wide, and that leads to some ankle knocking in his stride, and because of that, he isn’t able to reach the top speed that he otherwise should be capable of. If he’s able to clean that up, to work on his edges and add some strength, then he should be fine, everything beyond that (the physical development, the in-zone defensive awareness tightening, for example) are smaller details that should come along more easily. But, if he isn’t able to fix his skating, there are concerns over his ability to keep up with the pace of play as he continues to move up levels, as well as longevity and any premature wear and tear that he may have to deal with as a result of that extra stress on his ankles.
How would he fit in the Flyers’ system?
There certainly would be an interesting fit here. When we talked about Owen Power, we made note that the Flyers have something of an excess of LHD, but they’re decidedly weaker on the right side. Their top RHD prospect is Ronnie Attard, and while he’s definitely still an exciting prospect, he doesn’t have the same upside as Clarke. The Flyers could certainly use a bit of support on the right side, and a player with the toolkit and potential the Clarke has? That’s certainly enticing.
Could the Flyers actually get him?
Unfortunately, we’re still in “well above the Flyers’ ability to move up, even if they wanted to” range. Unless something weird and catastrophic happens and Clarke falls significantly, the Flyers are out of luck.
We’ll make one addition to the poll:
William Eklund — C/LW, Djurgårdens IF (SHL) — 11 G, 12 A in 40 GP
For my money Eklund is the best forward in this draft. He might not be a physical freak, or an athletic freak, or a speed freak… but his freak ability is maybe the most important of all. Players like Nicklas Bäckström and Joe Pavelski have been stars in the NHL for years. What makes them so good is what makes Eklund so good. It is their immense hockey IQ’s. While Eklund might “only” end up a good, two-way, 50 point forward it would be no shock if he became a star. - Alexander Appleyard, Smaht Scouting
Who should be no. 4 on the 2021 BSH Community Draft Board?
This poll is closed