Brandt Clarke can’t wait until the schedule for the 2019-20 OHL season is announced.
When it comes out, you can bet the Barrie Colts defenceman will be circling the dates when his new team faces older brother Graeme and the Ottawa 67’s.
“Usually he gets the better of me, but I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen next year,” the younger sibling promised with a sly grin at an afternoon press conference held Apr. 6 at the Barrie Molson Centre, a few hours after the Colts had selected the talented blue liner fourth overall in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection.
The older Clarke, a sixth overall selection in 2018, is in his second season as a forward with the 67’s.
“We spoke about it a lot,” the 16-year-old native of Nepean said. “I’m super excited to play against him. I definitely got to shut him down. I’ve never played against (Graeme) in an organized game before, so it’s going to be fun. I’m going to do my best to shut him down and definitely going to lay some hits on him.”
The Colts are just as super excited that Clarke was there when it came time to make their fourth overall pick. A dynamic skater, he was clearly the best defenceman available in the draft and a player the Colts figure will quarterback their offence for the next four seasons.
A key player with a loaded Don Mills Flyers club that won a GTHL championship and the OHL Cup, Clarke posted an impressive 35 goals and 78 assists for 113 points in 73 games this season.
Clarke should have an immediate impact as a rookie next season, similar Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk said of the impact that former Colt and current Florida Panther defenceman Aaron Ekblad had throughout his junior career in Barrie.
“He’s just a General on defence,” Hawerchuk said of his prize young blue liner. “He’s like a young Ekblad. Not as big, but he controls the game back there.”
The six-foot-one, 174-pound defender was one of three Don Mills prospects to get selected in the first four picks. Teammate Shane Wright, who was granted exceptional status and considered one of the best players available in a number of years, went first overall to the Kingston Frontenacs, while Flyers sniper Brennan Othmann went second overall to the Flint Firebirds.
Kanata Lasers centre Connor Lockhart went third overall to the Erie Otters.
Clarke, though, may have fell to the Colts thanks to the Otters already having their own offensive blue-liner stalwart in Jamie Drysdale.
“Brandt is one of the most offensive minded defencemen in this year’s Priority Selection,” Director of OHL Central Scouting Darrell Woodley wrote in his prospects report. “He loves to have the puck on his stick and is a threat when he is moving up the ice with it. He has great vision from the back end and is very creative. Brandt is a good skater that is only going to get better as he matures and gets stronger.
“His puck skills are very impressive. He has made a lot of opposing players look silly as they think they have him under control and then he makes a spin or a fake (move) and he is gone.”
As highly touted as he is offensively, Clarke’s strong defensive game is often overlooked. It’s a part of his game that he takes pride in.
“I feel like it flies under the radar because of all the offensive flair I bring to the game,” he said. “I feel like I’m very good in the (defensive) zone, I help out my defence partner very well. I have a very good defensive stick with poke checks and what not, and I feel I can sometimes lay big hits and knock guys over and steal the puck off them.
“I feel it definitely flies under the radar, but I think I’m going to be OK with flagging the (defence) zone at the next level.”
Clark plans to spend the summer on getting stronger and working on his cardio to help deal with the jump from 45-minute GTHL games to 60-minute OHL games.
He’s also looking forward to playing for Hawerchuk, a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee.
“Just the wisdom he’ll pass along to me is something that will help me out a lot because of all the years of experience and being in the Hall of Fame. It will be a lot of fun.”
It’s been a fun ride for Clarke these last few months with the draft and the success the Flyers enjoyed, but he’s glad the draft is done with and he can focus on what he loves and that’s playing hockey.
“I had a general idea I was going to be here, but no certainty,” said Clarke, who also helped Canada win a silver medal at the recent Canada Winter Games. “Now that it’s official, it’s like a sigh of relief. I’m really excited to play with his organization.”
The Colts held Erie’s second-round pick and used the 24 overall selection to bolster their offence up front by taking Toronto Young Nationals centre Ryan Del Monte. The five-foot-11 forward was considered one of the most highly skilled players in the draft.
“Ryan had a lot of injuries this year, but we had identified him early as one of the most skilled guys in the draft,” Hawerchuk said.
The most valuable player of the GTHL Top Prospects Game, Del Monte has a commitment to play NCAA hockey with Harvard. The Colts remain optimistic they can lure the talented centre to the OHL.
“There’s confidence (he’ll sign with the team), but you got to get it done,” Hawerchuk said. “We’re looking forward to this group.”
Barrie used its third-round selection to add size down the middle, taking big six-foot-three, 179-pound centre Jacob Frasca from the Mississauga Senators with the 45th overall pick. Frasca had 20 goals this season.
“We’re happy to get him in the third round, we weren’t sure he’d be there,” Hawerchuk said. “He’s a big guy that plays at both ends of the rink.”
Barrie had two picks in the fifth round and used them to continue adding size. They used a 90 overall selection to take Russian native and six-foot-three, 208-pound forward Vladislav Dvurechenskii and then added depth in the crease with the 92nd overall selection when they selected six-foot-three, 180-pound goaltender Ansel Holt of the Detroit HoneyBaked 16U.
The Colts also used their second-pick in the sixth round to take defenceman Kai Greaves, the younger brother of rookie goaltender Jet Greaves.
Fans will get the chance to see most of the club’s new prospects when Barrie holds its annual spring prospect skate next weekend at the Barrie Molson Centre. Times for the skate will be released by the club this week.
Here’s the 15 players selected by the Barrie Colts in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection:
Rd. 1 – 4. Brandt Clarke, Don Mills Flyers D
Rd. 2 – 24. Ryan Del Monte, Toronto Young Nationals C
Rd. 3 – 45. Jacob Frasca, Mississauga Senators C
Rd. 5 – 90. Vladislav Dvurechenskii, North York Rangers LW
Rd. 5 – 92. Ansel Holt, Detroit Honeybaked 16U G
Rd. 6 – 105. Trey Zagrzebski, Stevens Point Area Seniors HS Panthers F
Rd. 6 – 106. Kai Greaves, Cambridge Hawks D
Rd. 7 – 125. Mark MacPhee, Ottawa Senators Midget C
Rd. 8 – 145. Thomas Stewart, Vaughan Kings D
Rd. 9 – 165. Oliver Smith, Mississauga Rebels F
Rd. 10 – 185. Blake Hall, Southern Tier Admirals C
Rd. 12 – 225. Ryan Cook, Guelph Gryphons D
Rd. 13 – 245. Bryce Richardson, North York Rangers RW
Rd. 14 – 265. Patrick Brown, Kitchener Jr. Rangers C
Rd. 15 – 285. Matthew Sardellitti, Toronto Jr. Canadiens D
photo: Barrie Colts fourth overall selection Brandt Clarke, left, and head coach Dale Hawerchuk, right, pose at a press conference held Apr. 6 at the Barrie Molson Centre. Clarke was Barrie’s first-round selection in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection. Brad Terry photo