Defenceman Kale Clague of Brandon of the Western Hockey League provided a sign of things to come three seasons ago while playing in the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League.
As captain for the Lloydminster Heat, the 6-foot, 177-pound left-shot defender set a league scoring record for defencemen with 77 points in 33 games.
The previous record had been 65 points in 35 games in 2000-01, set by South Side Athletic Club Lions Bantam AAA defenceman Dion Phaneuf, now with the Ottawa Senators.
"I was just trying to produce some pretty good numbers," Clague said. "And as the season moved along there was talk about [the scoring record], and at the midway point in the season when I found out about it, it became a goal of mine. It was nice to accomplish it and it's definitely something I can live with."
Phaneuf went on to play his junior hockey with Red Deer of the WHL, and that's where Clague will be for the 2016 Memorial Cup, which runs May 19-29. Brandon plays its first game in the four-team, round-robin tournament against Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Rouyn-Noranda at Enmax Centrium in Red Deer, Alberta, on Saturday (5:00 PM MST; NHLN, SN360, SN1, TVA Sports 2).
The tournament begins Friday, with host Red Deer playing Ontario Hockey League champion London (6:00 PM MST; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2).
NHL Central Scouting's John Williams, who specializes in prospects from the WHL, believes Clague has plenty of NHL potential as an offensive-defenceman. Clague is No. 27 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2016 draft.
The 2016 NHL Draft will be held at First Niagara Center in Buffalo on June 24-25
"He's an excellent skater," Williams said. "And while [teammate Ivan] Provorov (Philadelphia Flyers) is the guy on defence for Brandon, Kale's the secondary guy. He plays within their system, the way they want him to play."
Clague tied for second among WHL defencemen in playoff scoring with 14 points in 21 games. He had six goals, 43 points and a plus-25 rating in 71 regular-season games and also played in the 2016 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 28.
"I want to have an impact, and I think my game has and will get even stronger," Clague said. "It's nice to get recognized [by Central Scouting], but the draft is in late June and there's work to be done. Come June 24 I want to be much higher than [No. 27]."
Clague was selected by Brandon with the sixth pick of the 2013 WHL Draft but was limited to 20 regular-season games as a rookie in 2014-15 because of a broken wrist sustained in November 2014 as captain for Team Alberta at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and then a leg injury in February.
He said going through that kind of season toughened him mentally.
"Injuries are never fun when you get them but it's part of the game and I think every player will go through it at some point in their career," Clague said. "I had a few last year and they were hard to overcome. It was pretty frustrating but I worked hard with a trainer to heal and get back to playing."
Clague used the time wisely, watching his older teammates, including defencemen Provorov, Ryan Pulock (New York Islanders) and Ryan Pilon, went about their business.
"Sitting out and sitting behind Provorov and Pilon, it was nice to watch and learn from a viewer's point and I soaked up everything I could with our team going to the WHL finals," Clague said. "It was a good learning experience and I used that to my advantage."
He also had the advantage of a father who played high-level hockey. Jason Clague was a WHL goaltender with Regina and Red Deer from 1991-95 and has provided his son valuable advice.
"My dad has always told me to keep working," Clague said. "He's always been one to push me my whole life," Clague said. "He told me nothing comes easy, and to be as humble and grateful as possible."
Why did Clague decide to play defence instead of following his father into the goal?
"I might have played street hockey goalie when I was really young, but I never really wanted to get in the net," he said. "Goalie just never sparked my interest. I guess taking pucks off the mask isn't something that interested me."
Playing defence has worked well for him, and NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said he believes Clague has the potential to move up on NHL draft boards if he puts his mind to improving his overall game.
"Clague's skating is strong and he can elude defenders while being checked or start an offensive play," Marr said. "He has excellent vision when moving the puck, makes a solid first pass out of the zone and is a composed player who makes good choices under pressure."
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer