Since returning to the Barrie Colts, there should be more heads turned to watch a historic performance from Brandt Clarke. Looking at all-time production from Ontario Hockey League (OHL) defensemen, the Ottawa native ranks in the following categories.
- Points Per Game: 1.968 (2nd)
- Goals Per Game 0.742 (4th)
- Assists Per Game: 1.226 (9th)
The names around him include Bryan Fogarty, Al MacInnis, and Ryan Ellis, and his pace hasn’t slowed down since the OHL playoffs began. He currently has 5 goals, and 17 points through 5 games, and there is an asterisk next to this. He was suspended for one game for his knee-on-knee collision with Hamilton Bulldogs forward Lawson Sherk in game 4 of their playoff series. The incident occurred during the second period, in a game where he already picked up an assist. He could have exceeded his current production had he played in the entirety of the matchup.
Now, let’s get into the premise of this article, and outline how the Los Angeles Kings prospect is playing at 5v5, quarterbacking the power play, and defending on the penalty kill. Then, we can dive into the underlying numbers, from a full season sample, and a three game sample from the 2023 Playoffs.
Breaking Down His Gametape
First, let’s take a look at his impressive performance in game 2 of the Colts playoff series against the Bulldogs. Barrie took a penalty in the first period, and Clarke was relied upon to kill it off. His time on ice (TOI) was 1:13 in this sequence, with the team limiting high danger chances in his minutes.
After Hamiltons’ Lucas Moore sent an inaccurate pass to Jorian Donovan, it forced him to make a desperate play along the boards to keep the puck in the offensive zone. As this progressed, Barries’ Declan McDonnell recognized that he could win a footrace between him and Patrick Thomas. In this situation, Clarke knew that he was a step behind both players, but took two strides forward and leaned into his stick to give him an advantage. He intercepted the puck, Tai York received it, and passed it to McDonnell for a scoring chance.
Second, Clarke displayed strong four-way mobility when it came to his skating movements. Looking at the sequence below, Clarke didn’t need to pivot as he prepared to transport the puck, but showcased his crossover movements to build up his straight-line speed. He is in constant movement when he is on the ice, and it’s why he like’s to activate into the rush and make plays with his forwards. In this instance, he created the controlled zone entry, and Florian Xhekaj is focused on disrupting his path along the boards. While the Hamilton forward looked to box him off, he sent a no-look backward pass to McDonnell, and created a scoring opportunity.
Taking a look at how Clarke activated as a fourth forward in this sequence, he escaped the attempted bodycheck from Xhekaj, and moved into the inner slot area to hunt for a rebound. Once the puck is blocked by Donovan, he used his straight-line speed to prepare for a defensive assignment. He will need to be careful on his timing for pinching on an offensive play, but it’s more useful for teams to have a player that is willing to create risky plays to generate quality scoring chances, than vice versa.
Clarke recognized that he shouldn’t pinch, or go down low in this sequence. Instead, he waited at the blue line, was able to find the loose puck, and became a shot threat with multiple bodies in front of the net.
This is another example of transition offense being Clarke’s biggest strength, as he created the controlled zone entry and is the first man on the attack. Donovan struggled with his gap control in this sequence, which led to the Colt’s defender making a cut to the middle of the ice, and shooting it under the left pad of Tristian Malbeof. Another added element is that he didn’t force the shot right away, as he elected to gain more momentum and pulled back on the heel of his stick for his eventual goal. Again, another subtle play that often goes unnoticed, but will help him be an effective NHL player as soon as next season.
He won’t always generate wide-open chances without being challenged, but he will take advantage when the time calls for it.
The most viewed goal of Clarke’s needs to be discussed in this section, when the defender scored using the lacrosse move on the power play. Looking at the sequence, it showcased how he’s always skating into different positions, and causing more difficulty for the opponents. He switched with Cole Beaudoin on the flank and went down low, with Braden Haché walking the blueline looking for options. Once he received the puck behind the net, he instantly corrals the puck and scored using the beautiful move. Natural skill and instincts cannot be taught, and most players could not make that read in such a fast sequence.
As mentioned below, Clarke was used in different roles on the penalty kill, depending on the game situation. A pattern noticed is that he tended to get the bulk of his shorthanded minutes in the first and second periods, with Beau Akey taking more reps in the third period. Nonetheless, here is another example of the defender transferring from his net-front coverage, to intercepting the puck off Rebelo. This led to a dump out for Barrie, and it was his defensive awareness that started the play.
What I found with Clarke is that his defensive positioning is strong when the opposition is cycling, and the puck is already in his own end. Our next example will showcase an area of his game that needs improvement, and that is transition defense.
On this Hamilton goal, Thomas created the controlled zone entry and bursts with speed into the offensive zone. As he skated east to west, the Bulldogs center is pressured by Haché, and Clarke is focused on him as well, leaving an open player to his right. Since he is giving too much attention and body positioning to Thomas, it allowed Nick Lardis to have more room, and get the shot off that he desired. Thornton gave up the rebound, and Rcanble scored the goal.
As he gets prepared to advance further in the playoffs, and play at the next level, he needs to work on his gap control. That means making the correct reads and closing the gap to force a low percentage shot from outside the faceoff dot. Even for a player that has dozens of more positives than flaws, there is always something to work on, or he could be exposed at the AHL or NHL level next season. Again, these are easier mistakes to teach and correct in a player’s game.
Next up, the Colts found themselves in trouble when Clark was ejected for kneeing in game 3 of their series, and. was suspended for game 4. I have tracked all six of the other defenders in the minutes without Clarke, which showcased how some players lived up to that challenge, while some inefficiencies were exposed.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
Barrie Without Brandt: Evaluating The Rest Of The Group In Games 3 and 4
For a combined 84:18 TOI between the end of game 3 and the entirety of game 4, Clarke was not a factor for the Colts. The team lost in both matchups, and was outscored 7-3 in those minutes, as it forced players into new opportunities that were not suited for them. However, some players thrived in their new roles, and deserve to get some spotlight. Also should mention that this isn’t a long enough sample size to predict future success, but it’s still interesting to track in an intense environment.
First, let’s showcase Akey’s ability to generate controlled zone exits on the penalty kill, and how he uses his combination of straight-line speed and quick hands to be a threat.
Looking at the subtle play off the faceoff, instead of pushing back and preparing to play in a defensive situation, the blueliner pinched and strove to create offense. He showcased his quick crossover movements in the neutral zone to generate momentum, which created a 2-on-2 situation. He elected to use the between-the-legs deke, but just fell through on the attempt. It’s unlikely that he will attempt this play at the professional level, but his ability to force turnovers, and willingness to activate into the rush are two aspects of the modern-age defensemen.
Sticking with shorthanded plays, let’s look at two other defenders making simple, yet effective reads to dump the puck out of the defensive zone.
Artur Cholach and Josh Kavanagh deserve a lot of praise for this sequence, and these are the type of plays that help teams win in tightly contested matchups. As the puck goes down low, Cholach is pressured by Rebello, but he remained poised and calm. The Hamilton forward looked to create the steal by going to the other side of his body, but he quickly recognized that decision and reacted accordingly. He banks the puck off the board twice to settle it down, using his big frame to protect the puck and gained inside positioning to feed it over to Kavanagh for the dump out.
Heading into game 4, Chisholm was forced to play as a defender, and it was a fascinating experiment. When the puck was in the offensive zone, he looked in his element, and was able to make plays off the cycle. When he had to defend in transition, and was forced to skate backwards to disrupt odd-man rushes, that’s when his weaknesses were on display.
Let’s take a look at more 5v5 plays, and start with number twenty-four.
Bulldogs defender Lucas Moore dumped the puck out, and as it landed in the Barrie end of the ice, it became a race between Chisholm and Cole Brown. It was a tough 180-degree pivot in this sequence, and his straight-line speed made it difficult for him to gain ground on the Hamilton forward. Although he won the race and got to the puck, he was stick lifted by Brown and lost possession. It led to a quality scoring chance, but the point-blank shot by Donovan went wide, and disaster was avoided.
Akey and Chisholm were paired together for the third period in game 4, and both looked more comfortable as it progressed. Luckily moving into the second round, the hope is that the experiment will not be conducted for a second time.
By The Numbers: Clarke Is The Colt’s Play Driver
For the graphic below, I tracked Brandt Clarke individually in games 2 and 3 (up until he received a game misconduct for kneeing). For the other defenders, I tracked their numbers from the remaining 24.18 of game 3, and the entirety of game 4. This is an important stat, as disrupting zone entries leads to more puck possession, and less time spent in your team’s end. For Clarke, he disrupted 67% of zone entry attempts at 5v5, and either forced a turnover, or created a takeaway. He is also known for his ability to generate controlled zone entries, as he had 2 at 5v5, and 3 on the power play.
Looking at the other names, there is a higher percentage of carry-in attempts allowed, and it showcased how Hamilton adjusted their playstyle when Clarke was absent from the lineup. Their forwards opted to carry the puck in with possession and attempt to make higher-skilled plays, which benefitted a player like Lardis, who set up a goal in one of the earlier clips above.
Looking at Clarke’s underlying numbers from Pick224, a website that is run by Dave MacPherson, it showcased his on-ice impacts from the 2021-22 regular season. Clarke has 55.2 goals for percentage (GF%) at 5v5 during his D+1 season in the league, and, this frame has only increased. His even-strength TOI was 25.01 per game, and there is reason to assume that he is in the same ballpark, or even higher this season.
There will be updated totals for the 2022-23 season in the coming months, so it will be a fun experiment to compare the year-by-year totals for the offensive-minded defensemen.
Overall, this is just the beginning for Clarke, as he strives toward an OHL Championship in his final season in the league. He got a taste of NHL action at the beginning of this season, playing in 9 games for the Kings, and will be destined to return to the big league. His skill set will make him a must-watch player for the years to come.
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