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21 Days of 2021 NHL Draft Prospects: #11 — Brandt Clarke

He’s a defenseman.

Barrie Colts v Oshawa Generals Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images
Brandt Clarke Fast Stats 2019-20
Lauren Kelly

I feel like I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but Brandt Clarke is a defenseman. An exceptionally talented and dynamic offensive defenseman, that is. Just keep that in mind when you watch the highlight clips at the end of this post.

Originally a forward up until novice, Clarke made the switch to the blueline after his team didn’t have enough defensemen. It’s likely why his offensive instincts are so well-developed and he continues to drive play from the back end. Clarke compares his game to a certain Norris Trophy winner:

“I like to model myself after Erik Karlsson because he likes to get up in the play and he knows when to get back,” said Clarke. “He just has the flare to him which I think I can bring.” [OHL Network]

Arguably the most consistent player on a ridiculously talented and deep Don Mills Flyers squad, Clarke broke the 100-point mark in his final year of minor midget. Though his offensive contributions were sometimes overshadowed by the likes of forwards Shane Wright and Brennan Othmann, Clarke’s 113-point season led him to being drafted by the Barrie Colts fourth overall in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection (why the Erie Otters passed on him for third I’ll never know).

Clarke’s talent and skill was on display regularly in Barrie this season. He exploded for five goals and ten points in six preseason games. Not only did Clarke record the most points of any rookie defenseman in the OHL, but his 38 points were also the most of any defenseman on the Colts.

The defenseman played on both special teams for Barrie this season, registering one shorthanded assist and nine powerplay assists. The Colts even sent Clarke out twice in the shootout this season — and he scored on one of those attempts.

Reunited with his Don Mills teammates at the U-17s on Canada Black, Clarke registered a goal and five assists in five games as the team’s number one defenseman.

Clarke credits his older brother Graeme, who was a third round draft pick of New Jersey in 2019, for helping him develop and hone his skating. The exceptionally mobile defenseman blends sublime edgework with a powerful stride, that he uses to join or lead rushes as a fourth forward. Clarke’s mobility allows him to get back into position when plays turn the other way, and if he is caught deep when the puck is turned over, Clarke is fast enough to get back to defend.

The most noticeable part of Clarke’s game is how poised he is, especially with the puck. His composure is remarkable for a player his age, rarely being pressured into turnovers and walking the blueline with confidence. He is an excellent passer and patient with the puck. Clarke has great instincts, and will anticipate his teammates and opponents’ moves before unloading the puck, whether through a pass or by shot.

As far as areas for improvement, Clarke’s defensive game still needs work. His gap control has improved greatly, and he makes the necessary adjustments in his own end to be in the right positions. He doesn’t shy away from physical play, but needs to reign it in sometimes. Clarke was lucky he wasn’t suspended for an uncharacteristically dangerous hit on Quinton Byfield earlier in the season.

There are a number of talented blueliners available for the 2021 NHL Draft, and Clarke is one of them. Although the number one spot is likely locked down at the moment, there’s a lot of time between now and that draft. Clarke has as good a chance as any of Luke Hughes, Carson Lambos, or Owen Power to emerge as the best blueliner available for 2021.

Strengths: Skating, Puck Control, Vision

To Improve: Defense, Discipline

Quotables

Brandt has a high hockey IQ combined with talent that makes him the most dynamic offensive defensemen in this draft. Brandt displays innate composure when playing the puck that is rare amongst players his age. Whether it is towing the offensive zone blueline to open shooting and passing lanes, puck retrieval scenarios with oncoming forecheckers in his defensive corner, or making sure of the right pass in breakouts, Brandt has the smarts and skills to execute. [2019 Black Book]

“He’s got no fear with the puck,” [Colts assistant coach Todd] Miller said. “We were in Sudbury (earlier in the season) and he lugged pucks and found guys, and created a lot. You’re seeing these big forwards coming at him and he doesn’t care. He makes sure he protects it pretty well and he reads when he can go.” [Barrie Today]

Clarke has shown great patience with the puck and seems to have a magnetic ability that draws wingers towards him before finding a way to get the puck on net. Clarke is willing to jump into rushes and rarely stays out of position long due to how fast he gets back to his own zone. [The Hockey News]

Highlights

Statistics from Elite Prospects and the Ontario Hockey League.