My main priority when it comes to drafting is to sought out players with high-end skill and ultimately high-end upside. A player I went back and forth on was Graeme Clarke of the Ottawa 67s, because of his jaw-dropping talent. But balancing those rewards with the risk he carries was a tall task.
Clarke is a boom-or-bust type prospect because of his elite puck skills, yet, inconsistent play. He can be frustrating to watch at times, but you can see the rare talent he possesses. If he can put it all together, you could be getting one of most exciting, creative players from this draft class. But that is a big if, which is why he finds himself behind many other talented players in this draft.
|Position||Left Wing/Right Wing|
|Birthday||April 24, 2001|
Skating: 50 – Puck Skills: 60 – Hockey IQ/Sense: 45 – Physicality: 50
Clarke loves to pull off the flashy plays. He has excellent hands and is shifty enough to dance around defenders. He is one of those players who can pull you out your seat with a high-skill player on the regular. With that, though, comes a lot of risk. Sometimes I get the impression he is trying to do too much, and would just be better off making the smart, safe play. He’s fearless in some of the tricks he attempts to pull off, but with that comes turnovers and face-palms.
Nevertheless, you can’t deny how uniquely skilled he is. His creativity is off the charts, and I’m willing to sacrifice some other areas of his game for his near elite puck skills.
One of his signature moves is “The Michigan” which is when a player behind the goal corrals the puck on top of their stick blade and puts it into the top corner of the net like a lacrosse player. It is an extremely difficult move to pull off and Clarke has mastered it.
I’ve seen Clarke successfully execute this play on several occasions, in both the OHL and minor midget levels. Its mind-numbing how he continues to do it.
These type of dazzling displays of high-end skill are quite tantalizing. The potential he has as a scorer because of his ability to make plays and break open any given shift is why I rank him so highly. But there are flaws in his game that have turned others away, and for good reason. As mentioned before, his decision-making can be a deterrent on the rest of his team. He tries too many plays that result in the puck going the other way. Work ethic and defensive play aren’t exactly his strong suits either.
But what really concerns me is his consistency. Too many nights he fails to make a positive impact. When the ice isn’t opening up the way he would like it to, takes a toll on his overall performance. Clarke takes too many shifts off and can be found skating around doing nothing for long stretches. I don’t get the sense he’s overly eager to get his hands dirty and help out off the puck. I don’t have much tolerance for laziness, which speaks for how much I’ve bought into his skill level.
Clarke’s stat-line took a hit in large part because of his inconsistency. He posted 23 goals and 34 points in 55 games this past season for the Ottawa 67s, one of the powerhouse teams in the OHL. In certain cases, playing on a stacked team can actually hurt a player, as there is less opportunity for ice-time. Clarke averaged just slightly under 11 minutes per game. He certainly didn’t earn more trust from his coaches as the season progressed to warrant more playing time. On the other hand, the argument can be made that Clarke had luck on his side, ranking 27th among under-18 OHL players in shots per game with 116 total on the season. Despite not reaching a considerably high shot total, he owned a shooting percentage of nearly 20%. It’s hard to imagine that number remaining that high.
Overall, what you’d be getting in Clarke is a highly skilled forward with consistency and play away from the puck issues. Coaches won’t be too keen on him in the upper levels early on. The difference, however, between Clarke and past/current players with the same issues (i.e. Arthur Kaliyev, Anthony Mantha, Josh Ho-Sang) is that Clarke wasn’t getting away with it as much against junior competition. That makes it slightly easier to project what he will become. I don’t see him ever becoming a first-line winger, but have enough confidence in his skill to become a top-6 winger with powerplay time.
Clarke still has a lot to work on before being ready to play in the NHL. To go along with improving his consistency, I would like to see some progress with his skating. His overall speed and first step both could serve to get a little better.
At the end of the day, it will take a good amount of time before he starts to sniff the NHL. He has age on his size, being a late April 2001 birthday, but that means more time to develop. He’ll need to return to the OHL for the next two seasons, in which I expect him to have a big year in the 2020-21 season.
His transition to pro hockey won’t be without its road bumps, but patience is key when it comes to developing projects. Being overriped doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.