Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown has begun! 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 3, 2018, when the 2018-19 NHL season begins.
We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our sixth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. Our #3 prospect is Kale Clague
Age: 20 (June 5, 1998)
2017-18 Team: Brandon Wheat Kings, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
2017-18 Statistics: 54 GP, 11 G, 60 A, 71 P (Playoffs: 14 GP, 1 G, 13 A, 14 P)
Jewels Reader Ranking: 3
Jewels Staff Ranking: 6
Last Year’s Ranking: 4
A prototype for the modern defenseman, Kale Clague continued to see his stock rise as he completed his final junior season. Splitting time between the Brandon Wheat Kings and Moose Jaw Warriors, Clague was awarded the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the top defenseman in the WHL. He was also named First Team All Star, as his 71 points tied for third among defenders in scoring.
Known primarily for his skating and offense, Clague has continued to put in the work on the defensive end. While not a bruiser by any means, he uses his feet and instincts to make stops and clear the zone. As reported by Jon Rosen, Clague had been working with Rob Blake’s senior advisor Mike O’Connell and Sean O’Donnell on his angels and points of attack, a curriculum that included video of Nicklas Lidstrom.
The highlight of Clague’s season may have been taking home the gold in the World Juniors tournament. While he registered only two assists in six games, Clague led team Canada in ice time. He also had a strong showing with Moose Jaw in the playoffs, registering a point a game through 14 games.
While his 11 goals this season registered as a career high, speed and vision will be Clague’s moneymaker. He moves the puck quickly out of the zone and is creative in his passing. His natural, fluid motion helps him evade the opposition and get the puck up the ice quickly. Never afraid to join the rush, he projects to quarterback the power play and could settle in as a solid top-4 defender if he continues to make strides defensively.
Last night Kings’ fans got a little taste of what Clague can do, as he assisted on Jeff Carter’s power play goal during the Kings’ 4-2 loss to Arizona in their first pre-season game. Expect to see him get plenty of ice time during the pre-season, as the Kings want to get a good, long look at their top defensive prospect. While he is slated to begin the year in Ontario, he has the ability to quickly separate himself from their crowded blueline and make himself a viable option for the Kings as soon as the second half of the season.
Clague is a feather in Mike Futa’s cap, the saving grace from the Kings’ infamously gutted 2016 draft. With only four picks to their name and none in the first 50, they could not afford to miss with their second round pick and Clague has rewarded their faith. While there is still work to do before affirmatively calling it a win, Clague has developed as well as anyone could have hoped.
In a year when most prior prospects have slipped in our countdown to make room for the haul of the last two drafts, Clague has seen his stock rise, moving up one place to number three. The Kings have their top-5 defenders written in stone, while Paul LaDue, Oscar Fantenberg and newcomer Daniel Brickley all slot ahead of Clague on the depth chart. Still, with the nature of attrition in the NHL, expect Clague to get his taste before long.