Since my last 2021 NHL Entry Draft profile, we’ve received confirmation that the annual prospect selection will still be held this July after protest from some NHL teams. And since that confirmation, the Nashville Predators have gone 3-3-0 on their current road trip, leaving them at 24th in league-wide standings.
With a draft date now set in stone, I’m taking another look at a prospect—defender Brandt Clarke—who could be available for the Predators in round one this July.
Brandt Clarke – D
Barrie Colts [OHL]/ HC Nové Zámky [Slovakia] — 18 — Ottawa, Canada
Every year, there are a handful of prospects whose names have long been promoted leading into their draft season; Brandt Clarke is one of those prospects. Two years ago, he was one of the Don Mills Flyers’ best players in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, skating as the team’s second-leading scorer—as a defender—with 113 points in 73 games.
In 2019-20, he impressed in his debut OHL year, scoring 38 points in 57 games for the Barrie Colts—best among team defenders. That scoring rate was also second among all U18 defenders in the OHL that season, just behind 2020 first-round pick Jamie Drysdale.
This season, with the OHL yet to start playing, Clarke shipped out to Slovakia with his brother around Christmas, playing 26 games for HC Nové Zámky in the professional Slovak league.
In Slovakia, he’s best on his blue line in points per game (0.58) and 14th-best among defenders league-wide. Nine of his 15 points were recorded at even-strength while he averages nearly 20 minutes of ice time per night.
As trite as it sounds each year, it’s important to note: Evaluating prospects like Clarke against peers is one thing, evaluating them against men in a pro league is another. The Slovak Liga isn’t the level of play that the KHL or SHL is, but the size and pace of play differences must still be taken into account.
I say this because you’ll likely notice Clarke’s size. He looks diminutive in the following clips. But I want to focus on how his transferable skills are matching up against older competition.
I’ve seen many evaluations of Clarke (#55, green) that cite his skating as an extreme plus to his game. That’s not incorrect, necessarily, but there are some concerns about his mechanics. In the clip above, the positives that stand out are his edge work, crossover strides, and pivots combined with quick decision-making.
But take a closer look at his base as he exits the zone for the first time and when crashing the net at the end of the clip. His skating base is too wide, and it starts to flatten his ankle eversion closer to the ice. That’s not an inherent flaw; some NHL players (Nathan MacKinnon comes to mind) use such an eversion to leverage more speed. But right now, I think it will best suit Clarke to get that ankle bend closer to 45 degrees and improve his knee bend.
Brandt Clarke loves to join the rush and crash the net. Rare is there a shift where he isn’t itching to skate up as a fourth forward, but I haven’t seen too many instances where he jumps too early. In this clip, you’ll see Clarke floating near the top of your screen. While there is still an opponent in front of his net, Clarke reads the play and knows it’s likely his four teammates will execute a proper breakout as he heads up ice.
Suddenly, he’s in an excellent position to carry the puck into the offensive zone and delivers a lovely pass into a high-danger scoring area.
This offensive rush is the epitome of what Clarke can do on the offensive side of the puck. He reads the breakout well, displays his top-notch pivot skills in the neutral zone to advance the play, and crashes the net for a beautiful mid-air, tap-in goal.
On the power play, Clarke won’t pin himself to the perimeter or half-wall. He’s conscious about open skating or shooting lanes and attacks them with purpose, whether it’s crashing the net for his goal above or attacking a penalty kill box for a good scoring chance.
On defense, Clarke won’t be the physical defender who steps up right at the blue line, but he does often play oncoming rushes in an effective way. During this shift, notice how he positions himself against the puck carrier with his body open, challenging the opponent to make a move through him or be pushed into the wall as Clarke ends up doing.
His edgework helps with the rest of the shift as he uses an active stick and good stops and starts to stay with the play, but more muscle (which will come) will be helpful at the NHL level.
Sometimes in the defensive zone, Clarke can appear disoriented. On this penalty-killing shift, he plays the zone entry well but has to maintain consistent awareness to avoid high-danger shots against his goalie like that. As the shift progresses, however, I appreciate how active his looks are between the puck and the net-front.
It’s also encouraging to see smaller ways that his talent and intelligence manifests at the pro level. I love Clarke’s active stick and how he’s constantly reading potential skating, shooting, and passing lanes—on offense and defense. As a result, he’s able to time smart defensive plays well, breaking up scoring chances like we see above with a quick spin and swipe of his stick.
Clarke may come off as more of a raw talent, but you could describe most prospects in this draft class as such. There will be necessary adjustments before he becomes the NHL player he can be, but with a top-five or ten pick, NHL teams are betting on a future top-pair defender who leads on offense from their blue line.
Expected Pick Range
Colin Cudmore (@CudmoreColin) at silversevensens.com has done remarkable work compiling draft rankings and establishing an ‘Expected Pick Range’ from different public sources. You can read about his methodology here and track the compiled rankings here.
Clarke’s Expected Pick Range: #2 to #7 — 1st Round
Clarke is almost a surefire top-ten pick come this July. As the carousel discussion about the first overall pick continues revolving, his name has and will continue to be thrown out as a potential top pick. He may not be a home-run franchise defender, but in this weak draft class, he’s a top talent on the blue line.