Saturday evening will bring a close to the latest chapter of Brandt Clarke’s life.
Over the past two-plus seasons, he’s suited up in games for Nove Zamky Mikron in Slovakia, Team Canada, the OHL’s Barrie Colts, and the LA Kings. More recently, he was assigned to the Ontario Reign for a two-week conditioning assignment. Given his age and junior hockey status, he technically isn’t supposed to be in the AHL — prospect rules dictate it’s either OHL or NHL for the 19-year-old defenseman. However, after sitting out for five straight games with the Kings, GM Rob Blake was able to use a little-known clause that allowed the former first round selection to head to Ontario for a maximum of two weeks. It’s a situation that will end with Clarke having played his fifth and final game for the Reign later today. In advance of this, we spoke with Clarke on a few topics…
His overall thoughts on this initial AHL experience
Just being able to play again. It was definitely a little bit of a stretch there, where I wasn’t in the lineup with the Kings too much. I was still learning a lot, being in all the video sessions, being in all the practices, and stuff like that. But those game reps aren’t really replicable in any other situation, so just getting down here and being able to play with these guys — a great group of guys that I’m really tight with already, even before I got down here — so it’s been really fun. I’ve been enjoying myself and this last game, hopefully we have a good team effort and pull out a win. Then I’m looking forward to getting back with the big boys.
On his individual performance over the first four games in Ontario
I think it’s kind of been a steady increase. I feel like my second game vs. Henderson, my third game overall, was probably my best game so far. Last game [vs. San Jose on Wednesday], we had a comfortable lead. I wasn’t making as many big plays, but that’s not what’s needed when we have a big lead. They just need me to be safe and make simple plays. I probably didn’t stand out as much, but we got the win and that’s what matters. There is a sense of just getting comfortable and feeling better every game, but it’s also a sense of — I’m a player where in some instances, I’ll just be safe, be kind of unnoticeable; just having a good stick and stuff like that. And sometimes, when I see more opportunities, I’ll be up making plays in the rush, getting shots on net, and all that sort of stuff. It’s just kind of a read and react thing for me.
Marco Sturm on Brandt Clarke, with one game remaining on his conditioning assignment…
— The Mayor | Team MM (@mayorNHL) November 24, 2022
On what management is sharing with him regarding areas of improvement
When I’m having meetings with Yawns [assistant coach Trent Yawney], he shows me a video clip and then he shows me the same play after I make the play. He’ll point out where I joined the rush or hopping in the hole or making a good move around a guy. He’ll say, ‘Look, that I love right there. I don’t want to take that out of your game, at all. But, we need to clean up [a few things]. You can close your gap here, you can be under the guy’s stick here.’ Just stuff like that; things that need to be glued into my head. Every shift in the NHL, they want me to make something happen if I see opportunities. They think, and I think, if I just round that out and shut stuff down quicker, get the puck in my zone sooner, that’s when that offensive flare is able to be shown off. They’re giving me lots of video and helping me out a bunch. It’s been great. I’m really fortunate for the good coaching staff and good front office staff we have here.
On the most impactful things Matt Greene has shared with him thus far
To protect myself. He knows that I’m a young guy with a lot of talent, a lot of skills. Sometimes that can put you in vulnerable situations up against the glass. He keeps reminding me, this isn’t junior anymore. These guys are stronger. These guys can read plays better. If you try to spin off the wall, a guy can surprise you and maybe run you into the boards. So make sure you know your surroundings. Know how far you are from the wall. If sometimes you just have to eat it and protect yourself against the wall, do that. That’s been really helpful. Our teammates are really smart, they know when to come in and support if I’m in a situation where I’m getting pinned up against the wall or stuff like that. It helps having smart teammates like that. That’s one thing he’s really honed on; just do your thing, but be careful of your surroundings.
On the most impactful things Sean O’Donnel has shared with him thus far
He’s worked a lot with me on net front. He called me over this summer a lot. He would send me videos all the time about guys being in the right situations and wrong situations. When the puck goes to the point, you have to know which one is your guy. He can’t beat you to the net if you are out of the corner, stuff like that. He showed me situations where guys puck watch and then there’s a tip in front. You’re dealing with talented players in the NHL, so if they tip in from the front, it’s in the back of your net. He showed me all situations; where guys have to have their head on a swivel. Matt Roy is a guy who does that really well. He has his head on swivel, knows where the puck is, but also knows where his man is. He can always get in the way and make sure that he knows his guy isn’t going to be the guy who gets it next. That something he’s been honing in on with me.
On something that has surprised him about life in Southern California thus far
A lot of things. I don’t want to say the weather because that’s not even really a surprise to me. I knew it was gonna be great out here. I feel like maybe I didn’t expect some of the traffic. We’re leaving Ontario at 10:30 some nights and I didn’t think we’d be sitting in traffic. That was kind of a shock. Oh well, though, that’s gonna happen sometimes.
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