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  • 2021 NHL Draft: Defenseman Brandt Clarke’s versatility can make him a top-10 pick


    Any other year, National Hockey League teams looking to draft in the top five (or even top three) are looking for a transformational talent - a player that can come in and help turn things around for a franchise that struggle-bussed their way into a high draft pick. Or, in some teams’ cases, take a team that just missed the playoffs but lucked into winning the lottery and make them a deep-run playoff contender in a few short seasons.

    Unfortunately for teams like Buffalo, Seattle and Anaheim, the 2021 draft is short on those can’t-miss talents from years past like Alexis Lafreniere, Tim Stuetzle, or Jack Hughes. That’s not to say there aren’t some potentially elite-level players to be had - just that there may be a few more question marks surrounding their development than normally you’d like to see in a lottery pick.

    Enter Canadian defenseman Brandt Clarke of the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, and in 2021, of HC Nove Zamky of Slovakia’s national league. Most scouts believe that Clarke has what it takes to be a top-pairing, potentially elite No. 1 defenseman for a team that can draft and develop him. And while many that lay eyes on him or watch his tape marvel at his ability to move the puck, contribute on the offensive rush and use his assertive instincts and active stick to break up plays in the defensive zone, scouts seem to have a huge level of disagreement when it comes to his skating, some calling it “outstanding” and “elite”, while others use phrases like “needs improvement” and “not yet NHL ready.”

    The most succinct phrase uttered by a scout regarding Clarke’s ability is the one Wild fans will likely be the most hesitant to hear: “Boom or Bust.”

    But you can’t teach “elite”, and the right situation could see Clarke add strength, skill and mechanics to his game. The question is, which team will be the first to see the bright, shining diamond laying beneath a very thin layer of rough? And would the knocks on Clarke game be enough to make him a targetable player for the Wild?

    Pre-Draft Rankings

    No. 7 (NA skaters) by NHL Central Scouting

    No. 5 by Future Considerations

    No. 6 by Dobber Prospects

    No. 3 by Wheeler/The Athletic (midseason)

    No. 3 by Sportsnet

    What Scouts Are Saying

    -Scott Wheeler, The Athletic’s Midseason Rankings

    -Corey Pronman, The Athletic

    -Smaht Scouting

    -Last Word on Hockey

    -Tony Ferrari, Dobber Hockey

    Would He Fit In With The Wild?

    Smart, skilled defenseman who can break up the play in the defensive zone, create the rush into the neutral zone and quarterback the power play? Yeah, that kind of player would do just fine in Minnesota along side Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin or Calen Addison.

    And considering the amount of regret still lingering in the organization and fanbase about letting an elite-level talent like Brent Burns go... if Brandt Clarke was the pick and he hit his ceiling while actually still with the Wild, that would go a long way to putting some of those what-ifs behind us.

    Could The Wild Get Him?

    Unlikely, but considering the questions surrounding Clarke’s skating mechanics, scouts and prognosticators alike aren’t sure where Clarke will be taken. Most mock drafts have Clarke going to either the New Jersey Devils at four or the San Jose Sharks at seven. No mock draft I’ve seen so far has him going lower than nine to the Los Angeles Kings, so even if Clarke was a talent that they’d want to trade up for, it would certainly cost them both their 21st and 25th-overall picks. Consulting various NHL draft pick value charts, that could only concievably get them up to somewhere around picks 8-10 (assuming they find a trade partner), and that might not be enough to nab Clarke.

    A Minnesota Relation

    Clarke is a versatile defenseman, to be sure - and one that the Wild have yet to see in their organization over it’s history. Sure, they’ve seen blueliners like Brodin or Spurgeon who had strong defensive acumen, but you wouldn’t consider them elite in the offensive zone. They’ve developed offensive dynamos like Burns and Dumba, but while with the Wild both were (at least at times) considered to be defensive liabilities.

    The closest current comparible would be Calen Addison, whose scouting report has also noted strong skating, puck moving and strong play in both the offensive and defensive zone. Addison’s biggest knock has been his size, which isn’t an issue for Clarke at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds. So, imagine a bigger, stronger Addision with a higher offensive ceiling, and you’ve basically described Brandt Clarke.

    2021 NHL Draft Board

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