Last year Blake Clarke was highly touted. He was invited to play in the All American Prospects Game in Pittsburgh, with many other draft hopefuls including, Thatcher Demko (drafted 36th overall by Vancouver), Sonny Milano (drafted 16th overall by Columbus), Ryan Donato (56th overall pick by Boston) and Ryan MacInnis (43rd overall by Arizona) to name a few. He had a good showing in the game. And then he got injured. None of us in the media knew. Most still thought he was an “A” prospect.
Sometime during the AAP he tore the rotator cuff in his left shoulder and missed five to six weeks. He’s a left-handed shot so that was a complication as well. After returning, he talked about his timing being off. Not during the season but earlier this summer, when he was invited to Red Wings Developmental camp. He rehabbed the shoulder, got some injections and then returned to the North Bay Battalion, who later traded him to the Saginaw Spirit because he had just three points in twenty-one games. In Saginaw he had just nine points in thirty-three games and one playoff point in two games. A far cry from the fifty-one points the year before with six points in five postseason games. Then he sat through two days at the 2014 NHL Entry Level Draft and his name was never announced.
Luckily the Red Wings saw an opportunity and opened their doors to him. He did well in camp and the winger admitted he picked up some defensive tips. He excelled in the prospect game, scoring a goal for his team. In an interview on detroitredwings.com he talked about how the injuries did set him back and he had a little loss of confidence as well last season. When you’re just eighteen, this is a common occurrence.
At six foot one, 190 pounds, he has an NHL body with a booming slap shot. He’s worked hard to get the shot he has, although his family had some mixed feelings about it a short time ago.
“It’s something I work on. Something I’ve taken pride in. I’ve been shooting a couple hundred pucks a day since I was nine or ten years old,” he recited. “We have our dining room right behind the garage wall I shoot at. One day the puck went through the wall and broke some stuff in the china cabinet. After hundreds of shots it finally got through the dry wall. My dad was not happy. So we learned. We put the tarp on there now so that won’t happen anymore.”
Growing up near St. Louis he had some high profile friends including MacInnis, whose dad, Al, is a hockey legend.
“I’ve known Ryan since we were seven. I’ve been playing on the same team as him from seven or eight to thirteen. After that I left St. Louis to play in other places,” said Clarke. “We never played on the same line growing up.”
“We looked at all of our options so I thought that was the best place to develop. I just looked at the OHL compared to the USHL and it’s a higher level of play,” Clarke said, mentioning the transition was easy since his parents were from Canada. “The league is a little better. You get to play against first round draft picks. It’s hard to get that in any other place.”
So we get back to the AAP game almost a year ago. Everything changed after that. At the time he told me, “Pretty much all of us will hopefully get taken in the draft.” That’s as confident as you can be without saying that you will definitively be drafted and most prospects won’t admit to that because they’re superstitious.”
So now, at eighteen, he’s in an interesting spot. He’s a free-agent, playing junior hockey in Michigan and getting a “try before they buy” look from the Red Wings. Right now he’s in camp with Saginaw and then he plays in the big Traverse City tournament followed by training camp as well. With a heavy wrist shot and a knack for going to the net I expect him to have a good tournament.
He’s actually landed in a pretty good situation since the Red Wings are in need of bolstering their farm system. If they play their cards right with Clarke, he may only be three years away from playing in the NHL. That’s his best case scenario. The worst is he doesn’t get signed and he has to have a solid season, hopefully enticing another organization to sign him after that.
Russ Cohen can be read at www.sportsology.net and on http://www.amazon.com/Russ-Cohen/e/B0034P5DNC where he’s authored a few hockey books already. His latest, “100 Things New York Rangers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” is due out November 1st.