Clarke embraced move to defenseman, grew into top 2021 NHL Draft prospect

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Brandt Clarke was able to take some of the skills he developed playing as a forward with him when he was shifted to defenseman and is reaping the benefits as a projected first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

“My dad was my coach when I was a forward from when I was 6 to 11 years old,” Clarke said. “We had some defensemen drop off our team, and we always had a scenario where the puck wouldn’t get out of our zone. We were hemmed in and he brought up the idea that I should retrieve it, skate it out, and try and make those outlet passes that I felt confident in making.

“I had an ability to make those 10-foot passes even back then. That’s when I decided to switch to defense. But I had to learn how to skate backwards and understand defensive positioning. My dad felt that with my toolset I’d thrive on the back end and I guess I did.”

The right-handed shot (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) is an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting’s players to watch list and the 18-year-old is considered one of the more mobile puck-moving defensemen available for the 2021 draft. He currently is playing for Canada at the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship, which began April 26.

Clarke, No. 8 on NHL.com’s list of the Top 32 prospects for the 2021 NHL Draft, scored 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 26 games on loan with HC Nove Zamky in the Slovak Extraliga, the top professional league in Slovakia.

“I was happy with how I progressed and how I played in Slovakia with these older guys,” Clarke said. “It’s been a change. I felt I did well getting shots through, made some breakaway passes, made chances for guys in the slot. It’s tough to put up points when you have these 6-foot-6, 230-pound beasts coming down on you. You’re not getting the puck off them, so you have to outsmart them.”

Last season, with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League, Clarke led OHL rookie defensemen with 38 points (six goals, 32 assists) in 57 games. He opted to play in Europe because of the uncertainty and ultimate cancellation of the OHL season April 20 due to concerns surrounding COVID-19.

“Brandt’s got high-end hockey IQ, is an excellent passer and playmaker with great vision and execution,” Central Scouting’s Joey Tenute said. “He’s a quarterback from the back end that sees the ice so well moving the puck up ice to the right option. He works the offensive blue line so well, can play heavy minutes, and is very clever in finding ways to get his shots through to the net.”

Clarke said using his shot to create offensive opportunities for his team is one of his big areas of focus.

“I like watching (Colorado Avalanche defenseman) Cale Makar with the way he can wheel up ice and make plays at top speed, and (Dallas Stars defenseman) John Klingberg,” Clarke said. “I pride myself on not getting shots blocked and from what I watch of [Klingberg], he never gets shots blocked so I kind of model that. He can pump-fake, take a few steps and shoot.”

PROSPECTS ON THE RADAR (listed alphabetically):

Sebastian Cossa (6-6, 210), G, Edmonton (WHL): An A-rated goalie on Central Scouting’s players to watch list, the 18-year-old is 14-0-1 with a 1.46 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and three shutouts in 15 games.

“He’s got that big presence in the net with very good net coverage while in his stance or when dropping in the butterfly,” Central Scouting’s Al Jensen said. “He doesn’t leave a lot of room for shooters, and when butterflying he seals the ice and five hole with a good leg extension to protect the low corners. He also makes good use of his catching and blocker hands and tracks pucks well through traffic.”

Ville Koivunen (5-11, 161), LW, Karpat Jr. (FIN-JR): The B-rated left-shot forward scored 49 points (23 goals, 26 assists) in 38 games, and the 17-year-old was named the rookie of the year in Finland’s junior league. He currently is playing for Finland at the U-18 World Championship.

“He’s a good skater, reads the game extremely well and knows where to be and when,” said Goran Stubb, Central Scouting’s director of European scouting. “He has good puck control in tight situations, is fast and has smooth hands, usually wins 1-on-1 battles using his skating speed and skills. He’s a two-way competitor with a good work-ethic.”

Chaz Lucius (6-1, 185), C, USA U-18 (NTDP): Lucius, an A-rated skater, scored 18 points (13 goals, five assists) in 12 games with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team. Lucius, who turns 18 on Sunday, made his season debut Feb. 19 after being out the first four months of the season recovering from a bone lesion on his knee. The right-handed shot is committed to play at the University of Minnesota next season.

“Chaz worked really hard to get himself ready to go,” NTDP U-18 coach Dan Muse said. “He’s been building and you’re seeing more parts of his game coming along, which is to be expected. When he gets an opportunity with time and space, he’s shown that kind of high-end ability to be able to create. He’s also been able to create with very little, which has been impressive when he gets an opportunity to shoot the puck, and he’s got an extremely impressive shot.”

Fedor Svechkov (6-0, 187), C, Togliatti (RUS-2): The B-rated skater scored 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 38 games in the VHL, Russia’s second division. The 18-year-old also scored 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 15 games in the MHL, Russia’s junior league. Svechkov currently is playing for Russia at the U-18 World Championship,

“He’s a hard-working two-way competitor with a hard shot and [makes] smart passes,” Stubb said. “He’s a reliable team player with a good set of skills and he’s improved a lot over the season, especially with his skating, which is better now than in August and September.”

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