We’ve reached the final week of our Top 25 Under 25 countdown! The rankings were determined by a combination of reader voting and our staff’s own voting. We then combined the reader rankings (50%) and the staff rankings (50%) to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 5, 2017, when the 2017-18 NHL season begins.
We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our fifth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. The top-ranked defenseman in our count: Kale Clague.
2016-17 Team: Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
2016-17 Statistics: 48 GP, 5 G, 35 A, 40 P
Current NHL Projection (via NHLe): 82 GP, 3 G, 17 A, 20 P
Jewels Reader Ranking: 4
Jewels Staff Ranking: 4
Defenseman Kale Clague’s profile has continued to shoot up since the Kings selected him with their second-round pick in the 2016 draft. He was already highly touted as a draft pick, someone who maybe slipped a bit lower in the draft due to missing time with various injuries, but Clague is increasingly looking like a great steal for the team.
Over his seasons in the WHL, he’s steadily improved, leading all defensemen on the Brandon Wheat Kings in points despite missing more than 20 games due to injury. He’s been recognized by Team Canada, getting time on the first pairing at World Juniors, where he would have likely garnered even more buzz if not for the breakout performance of Senators prospect Thomas Chabot.
If you hang around certain corners of the internet for long enough, you’ll even hear calls for Clague to make the Kings’ roster now, as a just-barely-19-year old defenseman.
Maybe we can pump the brakes on that one a little bit.
But still, Clague has been acquitting himself well in the preseason and is still hanging around, long after many other juniors players have been returned to their team. As Eric observed during the Kings/Anaheim matchup, Clague looked overmatched at times against pro-level competition, but didn’t look completely out of place and made some nice plays. We’ll most likely get another chance to look at him tonight, when the Kings travel to take on the Vegas Golden Knights.
Aside from his inclusion on Team Canada’s roster, including its summer showcase camp, Clague has been recognized as a leader on his team, including being named to the WHL All-Star team, as well as winning his team’s top defenseman award.
Additionally, he’s been named an alternate captain back in Brandon for the upcoming season.
Skating has been recognized by scouts as one of the most impressive part of Clague’s game. He brings speed and agility to the ice, and as a smaller defenseman, has long been able to skate his way out of trouble. Defenseman who can move the puck and create chances for their teams are in high demand in today’s NHL, and Clague certainly has fit that bill throughout his juniors and international career.
Clague himself has said that he still thinks he has another gear to find as an offensive defenseman. His juniors career has taken a few sidesteps because of injury, but his impressive year even in a shortened season speaks well of what’s to come.