Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2021 NHL Draft Class introductions. The 2020 Draft class was a blast, and the 2021 NHL draft should be too. Alexis Lafreniere was the first overall pick for the New York Rangers in ‘20, but who will it be in ‘21? How about we here at Last Word introduce two names to pay attention to this season: Brandt Clarke and Carson Lambos!
2021 Draft Class Introductions: Who To Watch This Season
The strength of the 2021 NHL draft comes from the back end. The top two defenders on my list, as well as many others, are Carson Lambos and Brandt Clarke. Clarke, who plays for the OHL’s Barrie Colts, is known for his skating and offensive abilities. Lambos, who plays for the Winnipeg Ice and, more recently, JYP’s U20 team in Finland, is known for his well-roundedness and near-NHL-ready skillset.
2021 Draft Class Introductions: Carson Lambos
Carson Lambos, a 6’1”, 201 pound, left-handed defenseman, was born on January 14th, 2003. Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Lambos plays for his hometown junior team in the Ice. In 2018-19, Lambos got his first taste of major junior hockey, slotting into 5 games with the Ice and scoring 1 goal in that time. In 2019-20, Lambos recorded 32 points, including 8 goals, in his first full season totalling 57 games. This season, Lambos was loaned to the U20 SM-Sarja, a U20 Finnish league, where he has played three games as of November 9th, 2020. He has recorded an impressive two assists so far. He is my number one ranked prospect for 2021, as of November 9th, 2020.
Carson Lambos Overall Game
Carson Lambos isn’t a guy who will burn opposing players. His skating isn’t a weapon by any means. But taking his size into account, his skating is just fine. He has a powerful stride and above-average speed. He knows how to use his skating extremely well, too. Lambos uses his size and reach to close gaps on opponents expertly, and plays a physical “in-your-face” type of game against the rush. He gets involved often in the defensive zone by way of sheer strength, incredible IQ, and a very strong work ethic. In fact, his defensive zone positioning and anticipation are arguably the best I have seen in this draft class.
Here’s where the well-roundedness of his game comes in though. As seen in his raw totals, Lambos is a lot more than just a smart and strong defenseman in his own end. Offensively, Lambos is extremely effective. His shot, for one, is outstanding. His passing ability is solid, though could use some refinement, he can still be dangerous in that area. That makes his offensive game difficult to stop, as he is multi-dimensional. Add to that his creativity and, once again, his hockey awareness and intelligence, and he instantly becomes a guy who could be lethal in the offensive zone.
While Lambos is excellent at both ends of the ice, that’s not where all his game lies. With his anticipation, strong passing ability, high-end IQ, and strong skating, Lambos is incredibly effective through the transition. He is excellent at moving the puck up ice. He is not afraid to lead the rush. Lambos is simply dangerous. He is the most NHL-ready prospect based solely on his overall complete game and hockey IQ, and his draft year could cement that mind-set if his offensive output takes another step in the right direction. Based on his style of play alone, he reminds me of Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
2021 Draft Class Introductions: Brandt Clarke
Brandt Clarke, my second-ranked 2021 NHL prospect, was born on February 9th, 2003, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The Canadian blueliner stands at 6’1” and 181 pounds. He is also right-handed, which is a valuable trait for the Barrie Colts defenseman. In 2018-19, Clarke did not get a short introduction to the WHL as Lambos did in the OHL. However, he tore up the GTHL U16 league, playing for the Don Mills Flyers AAA squad, recording 113 points in 73 games. In 2019-20, Clarke made his WHL debut, and scored 38 points, including 6 goals, in 57 games.
Brandt Clarke Overall Game
Unlike Lambos, one of Clarke’s best traits is his skating ability. His stride is smooth, his edges are crisp, and his speed is high-end. He utilizes that to its fullest extent, stopping on a dime or cutting back quickly to opening up passing lanes with regularity. Knowing his skating is dangerous on its own, can he actually take advantage? The answer is a whole-hearted yes. Clarke can thread the needle like it is no one’s business. His passing isn’t the only thing he can do either, but he is simply so good at using his skating to take advantage of those passing chances, it would be a crime not to explain just how good he is.
Clarke is like a fourth forward at times. He carries the puck down low, fluidly moving with it, waiting to strike. He can sometimes skate it all around the offensive zone. His patience, creativity, and IQ make him dangerous. As said earlier, he isn’t limited to his passing either. He has a good shot, though not at the level of a guy like Lambos. Regardless, he is dangerous in the offensive zone.
While Lambos is excellent at playing a two-way game, Clarke is what many would describe as an offensively focused defenseman. His transitional game is arguably the best in the draft. His passing and skating ability are the main reasons for that. But he is by no means a slouch when breaking out of the defensive zone or defending against the rush. He can also play physically when the time calls for it. Clarke has strong gap control and strong defensive awareness.
The problem he faces is his strength. He is slim compared to some of the other defensemen in this class, and it’s shown through how he can be outmatched in board battles or sustained pressure. However, one could argue that while Lambos has the better skillset now, Clarke has the higher upside. Clarke, based on his style of play alone, reminds me a little bit of PK Subban of the New Jersey Devils.
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