EL SEGUNDO, CA — Barring what would have to be rather drastic, maybe even somewhat disastrous circumstances, defenseman prospect Kale Clague won’t make the Los Angeles Kings roster for at least two-to-three years. Nevertheless, he is making solid strides towards that end.
The 19-year-old, 6-0, 177-pound native of Lloydminster, Alberta, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (51st overall) of the 2016 National Hockey League Draft, turned a lot of heads during a strong 2016-17 season with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, scoring five goals and adding 35 assists for 40 points, with a -8 plus/minus rating and 41 penalty minutes in 68 regular season games.
lague also represented Canada during the 2017 IIHF World Junior (under-20) Championships.
“He had a very, very successful season,” said Kings assistant general manager Michael Futa. “He took on a lot of responsibility with Brandon, and to be able to play in the World Juniors—I know that there were some injuries that allowed him to take on a more expanded role than he was expecting—it was just positive.”
“He’s a kid who skates exceptionally well, and moves the puck exceptionally well,” added Futa. “We’re very excited about his progress.”
Already displaying maturity beyond his young age, Clague deflected the praise.
“There’s a lot of great players on our team, and [the Wheat Kings are] a great organization to play for,” he said. “I’ve been there for three years now, and I feel really comfortable there. They’ve helped me a lot. They’re always pushing us in practice.”
Futa noted that Clague has made great strides, just in the last year, in his play away from the puck, and that he showed a lot of maturity and handled added responsibilities with the Wheat Kings admirably.
“He was a big part of an older defense corps in his draft year, and last year, he was the top guy, the go-to-guy for [Wheat Kings owner and former general manager and head coach] Kelly McCrimmon and his crew,” said Futa. “That kind of extra responsibility is always good for a young kid. From an NHL organization’s perspective, you’re thrilled when you see your guy playing in all kinds of situations, and getting that kind of ice time. I know that when our development guys were [at Brandon], they were thrilled with the progress he was making.”
Another feather in Clague’s cap was making Canada’s World Junior team, and as reported earlier, not only did he make the team, he ended up, unexpectedly, playing a key role in Canada winning the Silver medal, coming up just short of the Gold medal in a 5-4 shootout loss to the United States in the final.
“That was awesome,” he said. “I didn’t make the summer selection camp, so my goal was to have a great start to the season, have a great Super Series, continue to get better, earn an invitation to the selection camp and make a good impression there.”
“I thought I had a pretty good Super Series,” he added. “I played well with the Wheat Kings, and I got the invitation. I went in there, just trying to be the best that I can be. I guess they recognized that, and I ended up making the team.”
Clague wasn’t expected to be such a key player for Team Canada, but that changed when defenseman Philippe Myers suffered an injury.
“You hate to see a teammate go down [with an injury], but Philippe Myers got hurt against the United States,” said Clague. “When my name was called, I was pretty excited to play on the first pair with Thomas Chabot. He’s an unbelievable defenseman, and I think he helped my game, too, during the medal rounds.”
“I thought [the medal round was] when I played my best. I played with confidence. That was the best version of me, for sure.”
Going forward, Clague indicated that he needs to work on consistency and his defensive play.
“Consistency is something I want to continue to get better at for the next level,” he said. “I think with a great off-season, going as far as [I did last season], and with the experience that the Wheat Kings have had over the last few years, that definitely helps.”
“I’m definitely working on my defensive game,” he added. “My defensive game is slowly starting to get better. It’s part of my game that I’ve worked hard on. I’ve focused on it for the past few years now. It’s something I know that I need to be awesome at. It’s going in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
Despite his lack of size, Clague has been able to make up for that with his skating. But he knows that skating alone won’t be enough, going forward.
“Skating has always been the strongest aspect of my game, and because of that, while growing up, I was able to get away with a lot of things,” he noted. “But that won’t work at the next level.”
“I’m not the smallest, but I’m not the biggest defenseman, either,” he added. “I know that I’m going to have to have a good stick, be quick on my feet, and be able to defend. If you can’t do that, you won’t play in the NHL.”
Futa noted that Clague’s skating ability should give him an advantage, and not just on the offensive side of the red line.
“With his speed and his footwork, he should be able to snuff out things before they happen,” he said. “He should never have to defend. He should just be checking, and there’s a big difference between being on your heels, defending, and checking, taking away a player’s ice before they can get anything going—closing things off at the blue line, shutting things down before they can get anything going. With his feet, and his hockey mind, he should be able to do that.”
Clague is an offensive, puck-moving defenseman. Despite that, he believes that he hasn’t lived up to that billing the last two seasons.
“The last couple of years, I think that I’ve underachieved, in terms of scoring,” he lamented. “Even though I’m a defenseman, my game is about creating offense from the back end, so I’ve been working on my shot. It’s going to have to get a lot better for me to be effective in the NHL, especially on the power play.”
Perhaps Clague’s biggest challenge is staying off the trainer’s table. To illustrate, last summer, he suffered a leg injury during a rookie tournament game that sidelined him during a critical period for him. He also underwent hernia surgery at the end of the 2016-17 WHL season (he was fully recovered and participated in the Kings 2017 Development Camp in July).
“He’s got to stay healthy,” said Futa. “Last year, during the rookie games, he suffered an injury that prevented him from taking part in our training camp, which is huge part of a kid’s expectations and development.”
“Now, he’s healthy and chomping at the bit, looking forward to getting through rookie camp and participating in our main camp,” added Futa. “He’s got to dominate in the rookie games and get himself ready to make an impression in the main camp.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Kale Clague. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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