Clarke showing poise, confidence on Reign blue line

Photo: Mike Zitek

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Brandt Clarke has never been one to be afraid to take chances, to push the pace.

The test of any full-time NHL defenseman, of course, is to know when to push and when to pull back. Every young blueliner – particularly a top-tier prospect like Clarke – must go through that experience. Opponents at the NHL and AHL levels can exploit some of the smallest mistakes, the most minimal hesitation, or the slightest ill-timed decision.

That is what the AHL is for, and Clarke is finding that line.

“He’s a game-breaker,” long-time AHL playmaker T.J. Tynan said of his Ontario Reign teammate. “On any shift, he can make something out of nothing, and that’s something not a lot of people can do, especially from the back end. He’s got the full package.”

Clarke’s words and delivery much resemble his on-ice play. He does both with authority, poise, and confidence.

“We believe in our group,” Clarke said heading into the Reign’s Pacific Division Finals series against Coachella Valley. “We have the utmost confidence that we can keep it rolling. We’re peaking at the right time.”

This campaign has been much more stable for Clarke than the previous year, when he played in the NHL, AHL, Ontario Hockey League and World Junior Championship tournament. The eighth overall pick by Los Angeles in the 2021 NHL Draft, Clarke was largely left to season with the Reign in 2023-24. He came out firing, launching 10 shots on goal on opening night. With elite skating, vision, and a willingness to take chances, his 36 assists led all AHL rookies, and he recorded 46 points in 50 games for the Reign. He earned an invitation to the AHL All-Star Classic, where he went a perfect 4-for-4 in the accuracy shooting event. He was voted to the 2023-24 AHL All-Rookie Team and the Second AHL All-Star Team.

And for good measure, he collected two goals and four assists in 16 NHL games with Los Angeles, with his first NHL goal being an overtime winner at Boston on Feb. 17.

Off the ice, Clarke is willing to push to make something happen as well. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the OHL and sidetracked his junior career, a 17-year-old Clarke packed his bags and headed to Slovakia. Playing alongside his older brother Graeme, Clarke ended up getting 26 games of action against pro-level competition.

“There have been ups and downs,” Clarke acknowledges, “but I’m just trying to work on weathering that. That’s how the pro season goes. There are a lot of games. You have to learn how to not let the highs get too high and not let the lows get too low. Sometimes you’re playing really good players, and they’re going to burn you. You’ve got to know how to snap back into it, have a good next shift.”

Clarke and the Reign coaching staff have worked on helping him to know when to push the play – and when not to – against pros. To pick his moments.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that,” Clarke said. “I still pick my moments when I want to carry the puck, maybe take it down low, make a play or something like that. But there are a lot of talented players across the league.”

Regardless of how at ends at this point, Clarke and the Kings rightfully will come away satisfied with his season. But it’s Clarke’s personality to want more, demand more. This series against the Firebirds offers that opportunity, and Clarke will be a significant factor in whether the Reign can barge their way past the Pacific Division’s regular-season champion.

“I’m happy with the strides I’ve taken in becoming a more complete overall player,” Clarke said. “I’m really happy with how the season has gone, and I’m really happy with the team’s success. I’m just looking forward to what’s to come.”