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PROSPECT REPORT: Clarke Reflects on Shortened Season

Read up on Ottawa's Graeme Clarke, the Devils 2019 third-round pick

by Peter Robinson / Special to

You can't fault Graeme Clarke for trying. 

At home in Ottawa, the Clarke household backs on to the Ottawa River. The 18-year-old Ottawa 67's winger was the Devils third-round selection (80th overall) in last year's NHL Draft. His roommate right now is his brother, Brandt, a 17-year-old defenseman for the Barrie Colts. 

"Well, he's sitting about 10 feet from me," said Clark, of his brother, who is expected to be a top-10 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. "We've been shooting pucks downstairs and the water is still frozen here in Ottawa, so…."

The Clarke brothers are like the rest of the population, trying to keep busy when there, frankly, is not a lot to do. The 67's spent almost all of the season at or near the top of the Canadian Hockey League rankings. As one of four New Jersey prospects on the 67's, a club that lost in the Ontario Hockey League final last spring, Clarke and the rest of the Devils brigade were expected to a have a long playoff run. 

Those hopes were dashed on Monday evening when it was announced that the CHL was canceling its playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament amid the Covid-19 outbreak. A week earlier, all three of the CHL's member leagues announced that their regular season was over and held out faint hope that the post-season could be held. 

"It's disappointing, especially for us because we had such a good team," said Clarke. "There isn't really a lot (you could do). 

"I just feel bad for the older guys…I at least have another year of junior (eligibility)." 

Among those "older guys" are Devils prospects Kevin Bahl and Nikita Okhotyuk (both defensemen) and forward Mitchell Hoelscher. All three are expected to turn pro next season and likely had their junior careers ended with the cancellation. 

Clarke missed four months of the regular season starting in October due to surgery. Up until that point, he was off to a roaring start and had earned a roster spot on Team OHL's squad that played Russia in an annual six-game series that takes place in Canada between all-star teams from its three major junior leagues. 

Clarke came back with about a month left in the season and generally showed well. His final stat line was nine goals and eight assists in 16 games. The season was "paused" then canceled with four regular-season games remaining on the 67's schedule. 

After posting more modest numbers his first two years in Ottawa - 54 points in 118 games - Clarke picked it up in last year's playoffs, notching seven goals and seven assists in 18 contests. Playing on one of the most talented teams that also includes forwards Marco Rossi and Jack Quinn, both projected first-rounders when the next NHL Draft takes place, Clarke is often asked to play on the other side of the puck. 

Despite the abbreviated season, Clarke takes some positives from his situation. 

"I think it was good to have the surgery and get that (out of the way)," he said. "It was always going to take a bit to get my feet wet coming back but I think I (did well) in the time before the injury and then in coming back…and I have another year as well." 

Like everyone, Clarke is hopeful that wider society can return to something of a normal path in the coming weeks. If it does, he has Devils rookie camp in the summer and is hopeful of an invite to Team Canada's summer evaluation camp for the upcoming World Junior, interspersed with regular training that includes his brother. 

And when the hockey world does return to normal, Brandt Clarke will be part of the narrative around his older (by 22 months) sibling (the Clarkes also have a sister, Mackenzie, who plays Bantam hockey in the Ottawa area). 

Brandt Clarke had 38 points (6G, 32A) as a rookie with the Colts. Though a lot needs to happen between now and next summer - especially given the events of recent weeks - Brandt Clarke right now is considered the top draft-eligible defenseman in 2021. 

Despite Graeme's long stretch of inactivity and the cancellation, the Clarke brothers faced each other twice this season. The first was a 67's OT win in Ottawa, the second a 7-0 victory in Barrie. Graeme had three points and was first star in the second game, giving him family bragging rights, for now. 

"He has a chance to play a (leading) role on a young team," said Graeme at the time of their facing off, "Brandt's had an amazing year and he's going to be a way higher (NHL) pick then I was…but for me to give him a minus on my goal felt good." 

Older brothers never change.

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