LA Kings defenseman Kale Clague spoke with the media on Thursday about his opportunities and comfort level with the big club thus far.
One’s injury is another’s opportunity. That may seem unfortunate to a degree but it is nonetheless the reality of professional sports. Of course, when it was announced that Drew Doughty and Sean Walker were to be sidelined for eight weeks and the remainder of the season, respectively, it marked an ideal opportunity for the LA Kings to invest in a couple of defensemen vying to earn their stripes with the big club, so to speak.
Enter Kale Clague.
When they drafted him in the second round (51st overall) in 2016, the LA Kings were hoping that Kale Clague would develop into a solid fixture in the club’s defensive corps for the future.
But, for the native of Regina, Sask., earning a spot with the big club was far from an overnight transition.
From further seasoning in the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings to time in the AHL with the Ontario Reign to working tirelessly with the Kings’ established development team, Kale Clague was determined to maximize his opportunities when the big club came calling.
After four games with the Kings in 2019-20 and 18 more in 2020-21, Clague, while more seasoned at the NHL level, was poised to stick around. So, while the aforementioned injuries to Doughty and Walker were certainly unfortunate, those circumstances paved the way for the 23-year-old to really make his mark with the Kings.
And so far, so good.
Following practice on Thursday, Clague spoke with the media about his increased comfort level with the Kings, especially after Wednesday’s hard-fought defeat to the Washington Capitals.
“Yeah, I felt good,” the defenseman said. “I feel like there [are] some games against some heavier teams where I don’t feel I have the puck as much, but [Wednesday] night, I felt I had the puck a good amount and I was able to use my legs to create space and try to create as much offense as I could. I tried opening guys up but I couldn’t find a way to score. But, in terms of being in a game where there’s more size — look at Washington’s forward group; they’re all big with good skill — I felt like I held my own and didn’t give up much.”
While he has yet to register his first-career NHL goal, Clague, who has five assists in nine games this season, is nonetheless earning his keep with the Kings, playing a positive role in the club’s recent seven-game winning — and eight-game point — streaks. In fact, on Wednesday, his 22 shifts were his most in six games, including the last minute of regulation where the Kings, with an extra man and down a single goal, were pressing to tie.
So, even though the Caps snuffed out their comeback attempt with an empty-netter on Wednesday, the Kings’ trust in Clague to have him on the ice at a crucial juncture should not go unnoticed.
“I think definitely on the offensive side, I’m earning that trust slowly, which is really positive,” Clague noted. “That’s my game and I want to be out there in the last minute when we’re trying to score. That was a real positive takeaway personally.
“As I get more comfortable with this group, [I] definitely learn guys’ tendencies and where they are and spots that they’d like to be in. I feel like I’m improving and I think that’s just being more comfortable.”
As for Wednesday’s game itself, while they were shut out 2-0 and had their point streak snapped, it should go without saying that the Kings had a very strong game nonetheless.
“I feel like it was kind of a bit back and forth with both teams playing 1-3-1, a tight-checking game,” Clague observed. “There wasn’t much space out there. It just felt like one of those games where whoever got that first [goal], it was going to be in their favour. But, for the most part, I thought we played a really good game. We just couldn’t find a way to score.”
With a farm system as highly touted as the LA Kings have, one can justifiably wonder when those prospects will get their chance to shine at the NHL level. Of course, while voids are left with players leaving through trade or free agency, it is, more often than not, an injury that paves the way for a promising, albeit green, talent to show what they are capable of at the highest level. It may not be the most ideal situation but it is an opportunistic situation nonetheless — and that has just been the case for Kale Clague this season.
One would be naive to think that anyone can replace Drew Doughty or Sean Walker, but the lifeblood of any successful organization is to move forward — keep on trucking, if you will — when dealt a setback.
We may not expect them to run through the competition all season long but we can expect to see the LA Kings compete at the highest level, especially when others dismiss them or just count them out due to even the most manageable of setbacks. The Kings took an underwhelming 1-5-1 start in addition to the injury news regarding the aforementioned Doughty and Walker and, so to speak, turned lemons into lemonade — all with Kale Clague playing a positive factor.
Look for this to continue.