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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Brandt Clarke has a competitive spirit that naturally invites comparisons to Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.
“When the puck drops, he’s just a gamer,” Kings player development staffer Mike Donnelly said following development camp in July. “The other day, there was like five seconds left in the game and his legs over the boards. He wants to get out there. The kid wants to play. I mean, he just loves it. You see some of that like with Drew when he was young. He just wants to play.”
Though the Kings would welcome another jolt of Doughty-like enthusiasm, the other contribution Clarke, the No. 8 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, could offer as soon as this season would be the scoring punch from a defenseman that they have often relied on Doughty to provide.
Despite playing an NHL career-low 39 games because of knee and wrist injuries, Doughty still led Los Angeles defensemen with 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists). The Kings got 113 points (14 goals, 99 assists) in 454 man-games from their other 13 defensemen.
Los Angeles finished 31st in goals from defensemen (21), ahead of the Detroit Red Wings (20).
Offense has always come naturally to Clarke, who had 59 points (11 goals, 48 assists) in 55 games for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League. The 19-year-old was able to continue developing that part of his game even when on-ice work was not an option during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of stuff was shut down for a really long time, but my family has been helping me a lot,” Clarke said. “Me and my brother, my sister, we’re all trying to play top level hockey, so we just try to push each other. We’re working in the basement, like we have a shooting range in the basement. We do like shooting contests and stuff.”
When Clarke (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) gets to showcase his attacking traits in the NHL will be decided by his defense. There were signs of progress last season when Clarke got more time on the penalty kill and other critical moments. His plus-minus rating increased from minus-6 in 2019-20 to plus-11 last season.
“My coaches in Barrie this year, they really homed in on my defensive play,” Clarke said. “They wanted me to play against the top guys across the League, and that’s what the people in LA were saying too. They want to see how I handle myself in those higher trustworthy situations, I guess you could say, against top guys across the OHL, and I really hung in.”
A native of Nepean, Ontario, Clarke worked out with NHL players including Ottawa Senators forward Claude Giroux and San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson in the offseason. Those sessions helped build confidence Clarke can make the Kings out of training camp in October.
“I just think I’m ready,” Clarke said. “I think the game at this level. I think my brain works at this level and I’m poised with the puck, poised without the puck. I’m really intrigued to see what I’m like in those (preseason) games against top NHL players, so it’ll be interesting, but I feel confident in myself.”
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