A WHL championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup isn’t a bad way to end your draft-eligible season.
Kale Clague, defenseman for the Ed Chynoweth Cup-winning Brandon Wheat Kings, matched his regular season goal total of six in 21 playoff games while helping his team to their Memorial Cup bid. Brandon clinched that bid on Friday, May 13, defeating the Seattle Thunderbirds 8-4.
He came into the WHL pretty hyped as a prospect, due to a great run in bantam, but had a rough rookie season dealing with a few long-term injuries. This season has certainly been an improvement. Currently ranked 27th among North American skaters in Central Scouting’s final rankings (down from 22nd at midterm) and 30th overall by McKeen’s, Clague played for Team Cherry at this year’s CHL Top Prospects game and has been invited to the NHL Draft Combine.
At 6-foot and 178 pounds, Clague is not the largest defender in this year’s draft, but he has excellent instincts that allow him to be effective without playing an overly physical game. With 43 points (6 goals, 37 assists) in 71 regular season games and 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in 21 playoff games, the left-shooting defenseman provided a good demonstration of his offensive potential—particularly in the postseason, where he has dialed his game up several notches.
Clague has recently been playing with Flyers prospect Ivan Provorov on Brandon’s top pairing, meaning he frequently faces top competition, but despite for the most part effectively shutting down that competition it’s his offensive skill that draws teams to him.
A crafty and cunning player, Clague can make creative passes but is also unafraid to shoot the puck. He sees all his options on the ice, and has the ability to either pick the right one or, if necessary, make moves to create new options. His stickhandling skills allow him to get the puck up ice and protect it as he goes, and he has the potential to be a future power play quarterback.
One of Clague’s standout strengths is his terrific skating. His speed and acceleration are each top-quality in both directions, and he’s fluid and mobile—he skates like a professional, making this, at least, an area where he likely wouldn’t be out of his depth with more advanced players. His smooth skating also aids his gap control and defensive positioning. He’s reliable at both ends of the ice, but his ability to jump up and join the rush makes him an attractive prospect.
Clague has all the fundamentals he needs to become an effective puck-moving defender at the professional level, given time to season and proper development. He could stand to improve his shot—his slapshot and wrist shot could use work—and adding muscle both to put more power behind those shots and to help him in board battles may not be a bad idea.
Clague’s biggest weakness is consistency. Sometimes he shows up big-time offensively, and sometimes he seems completely invisible on that front. He could also improve his defensive play—while he’s hardly a liability in his own end, and his defensive game isn’t what NHL teams want him for, becoming more defensively responsible is never a bad idea for a player who wants to make it in the show.
Overall, Clague seems like a solid second-round choice for a team that’s looking to nab a puck-moving defender. He could even sneak into the first round if he’s high enough on a team’s board—he’s got a lot of upside, and plenty of time to improve the aspects of his game he’s still working on.