The 23-year-old could be just what the LA Kings are looking for in a “dynamic, young, left defenseman,” but it might be for the Seattle Kraken.
After looking at this headline, one could say, “protect him in the expansion draft, and the problem is solved.” In a perfect world, that would certainly be the case; however, it’s just not that easy. The LA Kings will most likely be going with the seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie protection schematic for this expansion draft, so they can protect as much of the abundance of forwards they have as possible.
This means there will be an odd man out on the defense. Drew Doughty has to be protected, and Matt Roy can be considered a lock as well. Sean Walker appears to be the other LA Kings defenseman that will receive expansion draft protection, leaving Kale Clague at the mercy of the Kraken management.
Expansion drafts can be tough because usually, a team is forced to lose an asset they do not want to lose. The Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft proved that sometimes teams will go to great lengths to keep a player they really like – even if it means giving away other assets that, in retrospect, were worth way more than the one player they were trying to protect.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) April 8, 2021
I am not suggesting the LA Kings should give away players the caliber of Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Tuch, or Shea Theodore to protect Clague – far from it. Given the perceived lack of offensive punch from the left side of the Kings defense, however, they should make an effort to keep him in Los Angeles.
Kale Clague’s biggest hockey asset is his outstanding skating and offensive ability. After a standout junior hockey career in the Western Hockey League, the LA Kings drafted him in the second round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He turned pro in the 2018-19 season, joining the Kings AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign.
He spent two full seasons in Ontario, where despite some “growing pains,” he showed growth in both seasons. The 2021 season saw Clague splitting time between the Reign and the Kings. Despite having problems getting playing time with the Kings, he showed flashes of why the Kings drafted him in the second round by the end of the season.
Defensemen usually take longer to develop than forwards. At 23 years old, Kale Clague still has time to refine and improve his game to develop into the top four defensemen that many thought he could be in 2016. The LA Kings certainly have plenty of potential for these types of players on the right side of their defense (although, like any other prospect, there is no guarantee they will pan out), but very little in the way of this type of defensive prospect on their left side.
This image shows scoring chances contributions from defencemen from 6 WHL teams. #2018NHLDraft Ty Smith is a scoring chance machine. #LAKings prospect Kale Clague is a premier playmaker. #Habs prospect Jarret Tyszka is sneaky good. Josh Brook checks out well, too. pic.twitter.com/Nm8bgvA27s
— Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown) March 8, 2018
Of course, the Kings should not go to the extremes of the Vegas expansion draft to keep Clague. Nor am I convinced the team should leave Sean Walker unprotected to keep Clague, as Walker is a valuable asset with his team-friendly contract and NHL experience. Still, the Kings have a glut of forwards that they could use to persuade Ron Francis and company to avoid Kale Clague on July 21st.
The Kraken are obviously starting from scratch and will need players to stock their NHL team and minor leagues as well. At present, the Kings have several forwards in the minors who will be hard-pressed to make the NHL with the Kings simply because of their depth. One player in particular that comes to mind is Aidan Dudas.
I really like what Dudas brings with his grit and tenacity, but the fact is he would have a far better chance of making the NHL in Seattle. If traded to incentivize Seattle to not select Clague, Dudas would provide the Kraken with someone who could potentially provide them with leadership out of their bottom six in the future and pick another player from the Kings roster that could help them now.
If Dudas isn’t what Seattle is looking for, I would say the Kings could offer up defenseman Sean Durzi as a prize to stay away from Clague. Like Clague, Durzi is a second-round pick who is known for his offensive abilities.
However, unlike Clague, Durzi is a right-shot defenseman. With the right side of the LA Kings defense already established, Durzi could have difficulty getting playing time in Los Angeles. Like Dudas, Durzi will most likely have a clearer path to the NHL on another team – especially Seattle.
With the stated need/want of a “young, dynamic, left-shot defenseman,” why should the LA Kings lose the closest thing they have in the system to that – even if Kale Clague doesn’t necessarily have the NHL experience they are looking for?