Brandt Clarke expected to join older brother Graeme to become first Barrhaven brothers drafted by NHL teams
By Jeff Morris
There has never been much doubt that Barrhaven’s Brandt Clarke was on a path to the NHL. Like his older brother Graeme, a New Jersey Devils prospect and former Ottawa 67’s star, Brant has been identified as a sure fire NHL prospect since he was playing in the Nepean Minor Hockey Association.
Neither Graeme nor Brandt expected their path to the pros to run through Slovakia.
On July 23, Brandt Clarke, a 6’2”, 190 pound defenceman who played junior hockey with the Barrie Colts, is expected to become the 10th player from Barrhaven ever drafted by an NHL team. He and Graeme would be the first Barrhaven brothers ever drafted. He is also expected to the third Barrhavenite to ever be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft. The other two are Zach Senyshyn, picked 15th overall by the Boston Bruins in 2015, and Steve Yzerman, drafted fourth overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 1983.
While most mock drafts from experts have Clarke going around eighth or ninth, some have him going as high as second. If he were to match Yzerman and go fourth overall, he would be picked by the New Jersey Devils and would soon end up being teammates with his older brother.
“Graeme speaks very highly of them,” Clarke said of the Devils. “They run a really good organization. He tells me all good things, and they treat him really well. When I spoke to them in the interviews they seemed to really like me. If I got to play with him for the next 10 or 15 year, that would be a dream come true. I’d be fully up for that and I’d be stoked if that could end up happening.”
When the 2020-21 OHL hockey season was cancelled, the Clarke brothers started looking for a place to play. Brandt was trying to get an invite to the Team Canada World Junior Camp, but the invite never came. Graeme was invited to the camp but did not make the final roster for the World Junior U20 Championships. They tried Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Finland, but there were no takers. Finally, they connected with HC Nove Zamky of Slovakia, where there was a spot for both brothers.
“I was training the whole summer and didn’t take any weeks off,” Brandt said. “My brother wasn’t too happy that he got cut (from Team Canada). He was pretty fired up. He wanted to prove himself and he wanted to go and play somewhere. The Slovakian team offered me and Graeme spots, so we jumped at the opportunity. We had never played together, and I think that’s why our parents were so open to it. He wasn’t there very long – three weeks or a month – but the time we played together was memorable.”
Graeme played six games and registered an assist before he came back to North America to play in the AHL with Binghamton Devils. As a junior-aged rookie in the AHL, he had eight goals and 10 assists in 31 games. Brandt, meanwhile, stayed in Slovakia and played in 26 games. Although he was in a shutdown defensive role, he scored six goals and added seven assists for 13 points and a plus-six rating.
Before long, it was time for Graeme to return to North America as the Devils wanted him playing in the AHL. He still had a year of junior eligibility left with the Ottawa 67’s, but like most OHL players who had already been drafted, he moved up to the professional ranks. Brandt continued on in Slovakia, with nowhere else to play. He made the most of the situation as a 17-year-old playing against men 10 and 15 years older than he was.
Help From Big Brother
“(Graeme) made the adjustment period a lot easier for me,” Brandt said. “Being a 17-year-old kid halfway across the world and your big brother just kind of packed up his stuff and left, I wasn’t personally sure how I was going to react to that. I think I recovered well and didn’t let it affect my on-ice play. He was telling when we were going to bed and night and waking me up in the morning. When he left I had to be more independent. I was living on my own getting the professional hockey feeling, I did a lot of growing up when I was over there.”
Now that Brandt is back home in Barrhaven, being closer to his brother makes it easier to follow in his footsteps. The Clarke brothers have been working out with fitness trainer Tony Greco and a stable of NHL players that included Claude Giroux, Ben Hutton, Jack Quinn and a number of pros. Both of them have worked hard to make it to the next level. Graeme Clarke is known for training like a beast. He is setting an example for his younger brother.
“He wasn’t even supposed to play in the AHL this year, he was supposed to go back to the OHL,” Brandt said of Graeme, adding that has always helped having a brother a little bit older who has gone through the same thing he is going through. “He was a high pick in the OHL Draft and I was a high pick in the OHL Draft. Coming into this draft, he’s already been selected. He’s done a lot of things I want to do. It’s kind of nice that I get to follow his path. He kind of had to learn the ropes by himself but I get to follow him and he helps me every step of the way.”
Graeme Clarke gave some advice to Brandt when he was going through the process of being interviewed by various teams leading up to the NHL Draft.
“He told me just be truthful with how you speak and speak from the heart,” Brandt said. “He said just say what you mean and be direct. You want to put yourself on a bit of a pedestal but you want to be respectful at the same time. He’s been a big help for me and you couldn’t ask for much more from a big brother.”
The fairy tale ending for Brandt Clarke’s NHL Draft story would be to have him selected by the Ottawa Senators. While the Senators got off to a terrible start in the 2020-21 season, they were one of the NHL’s hottest teams down the stretch. As a result of their second half success, they don’t draft until 10th overall. It is doubtful that Clarke would still be available at 10th, but if he did fall into Ottawa’s lap, he would be happy.
“I grew up a Sens fan and I had season tickets,” he said. “I watched Karlsson, I watched Stone, I watched Hoffman, I watched Alfie when he was there. These were my idols when I was growing up. If I did end up with the Ottawa Senators, that would be a dream come true.”
The first round of the NHL Draft takes place Fri., July 23 while the rest of the draft is Sat., July 24.
With files from frequent Barrhaven Independent contributor, Russ Cohen of the NHL Network.