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2019 NHL Draft prospect profile: Graeme Clarke has the skill, but not the consistency to be a high pick

The winger can wow you with his talent, but you may have to wait a bit to see him do it again.

Terry Wilson / OHL Images

You may not have heard of the ‘’Michigan move’’ in hockey, but you have certainly seen it attempted. It consists of picking the puck up with the blade of the stick from behind the net and wrapping it around the post top corner on an unsuspecting goalie. The lacrosse goal requires time and space to execute, and a player willing to be that bold.

Graeme Clark is that sort of player. This is not a move he has scored with just once in his young hockey career, it’s something he has tried with some regularity. It is effective if you have the skill to pull it off, and Clarke definitely does.

Here he is scoring with the move in a Midget AAA game:

And now the same goal with the Ottawa 67’s:

He was a high pick for Ottawa in the OHL Draft for a reason. A season spent with Jack Hughes prior to his selection definitely helped his numbers, but despite the favourable circumstances, the 67’s jumped at the occasion to add his scoring touch to their formation.

Birthplace: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Shoots: Right
Position: Wing
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 174 lbs.
Team: Ottawa 67’s

As of now, Clarke hasn’t established himself as a top forward in the OHL. There are some individual elements that hold him back (more on this later), but it has also been a story of opportunity for the prospect.

He started the year in Ottawa’s top six, contributing 15 points in 22 games, but was injured in November. He came back to a bolstered lineup that featured new acquisitions Lucas Chiodo and Kyle Maksimovich. While Clarke still had stints with the top team’s top forwards, and power-play time, he was often relegated to the depth of the lineup.

Elite Prospects

The winger is another case of a talented player who benefited from a strong supporting cast, but also had limited ice time to shine compared to many other draft-eligible skaters. Even considering the circumstances, his package of skill meant he was still a player NHL teams paid a lot of attention to this season.

His year began with three points in five games at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup and was followed by a solid performance at the CHL Top Prospects Game, where he reaffirmed what he can do on the ice surrounded by great players.

In the sequence above, precise and shifty handling skills, combined with the ability to recognize where the space is in the offensive zone and the fearlessness to attack it, navigated him through the many opposing sticks between him and the net. There, Clarke also pulled off a couple more moves to open up a hole in the goalie’s coverage to chip the puck through.

It was an incredible flash from the winger. Those plays didn’t happen every game for him, and weren’t even all that common, but they speak to his offensive potential. His best tools are his stickhandling, and maybe even above that, his release.

The puck flies off his blade. He doesn’t need much of a windup to pick his spot. He also fires deceptively at times by closing down his blade and opening it up at the last second to shoot, or by dragging the puck closer to his body to further change the angle of his release.

Clarke didn’t fire many pucks at the net this season (also somewhat of a factor of his ice time), but his shooting percentage was in the top 10 of the OHL. In his case, that’s much more an indication of his shooting ability than luck, and also the fact that he likes to hang around the net, positioning himself in a seam to find a pass or rebound to capitalize on. He has quick hands and can elevate the puck past a scrambling goalie in a fraction of a second.

Low ice time doesn’t fully explain Clarke’s low production this season. His offensive game has some limitations. The winger needed to be set up for many of his chances this season. He wasn’t creatively moving the defence around and creating shooting or passing lanes at the high level he could have been with his handling abilities.

His skating holds him back in that aspect as he isn’t fast or quick compared to many of his OHL peers. His stride is getting better, but remains a little bit awkward. He lacks the explosiveness or the speed necessary to make his stickhandling moves that much more effective against the defence.

Mitch Brown’s CHL tracking project

Clarke ranks highest in the shooting categories of the tracked stats, which is what is expected with his talent as a triggerman. He also attempted to carry the puck out of the defensive zone for his team a lot this season with the goal of getting back to the offence as soon as possible (since he isn’t at his most comfortable in the defensive zone).

Rankings (not all rankings are final)

McKenzie/TSN: #61
NHL Central Scouting: #45 (NA skaters)

It’s probable Clarke has to wait a bit on the second day of the draft to hear his name called. It likely won’t happen before the third round considering his lack of production and the holes in his game. But one team will step up to the podium to bet on his skill and shooting talent, as the 67’s young player represents a rare occasion to find a forward with enough potential to become a top-six player in the latter rounds of the draft.