After a strong training camp, Graeme Clarke leads all Utica Comets in goals (16), assists (19) and points (35) in 43 games this season, including 19 points in a 17-game stretch. These totals have already eclipsed his last season of 10 goals, 14 assists and 24 points in 52 games. Clearly, Graeme Clarke is a player who has broken out.
Drafted in the 3rd round (80th Overall), it’s hard to remember that Graeme Clarke is only 21 years-old given all that he has been through in his young hockey career. In an article by Scott Wheeler for the Athletic in 2019 entitled “I felt my shoulder fall off,” Clarke described the horrible injury that delayed his development four months in his draft+1 season. [The Athletic $] In his draft+2 season, the OHL was cancelled, forcing Clarke to play for HC Nove Zamky in the Czechia league before signing his professional contract with the Devils. In the AHL, Clarke has been steadily developing, first in Binghampton, now in Utica, and seems poised to make his NHL debut.
WHEN WILL WE SEE CLARKE IN NEW JERSEY?
That’s the tricky part. With the Devils competing for the top of the Metropolitan Division, they can ill-afford to just call up a player to give them a shot on the big club without a necessary reason for doing so. The Devils will not be sellers at the deadline, off-loading expiring contracts for picks, so roster spots are likely to only open up in the case of injury or if other roster players are traded in hockey moves before the deadline.
Two players who have been seeing a lot of the press box are Fabian Zetterlund and Alexander Holtz, although Zetterlund has slotted back in as of late. As Zetterlund requires waivers, he is unlikely to be sent down. Holtz could be demoted to get some reps in, but, in all likelihood, all that would do is leave Clarke languishing in the press box with the big club. Per Cap Friendly, Clarke is not waivers exempt until 2024-25, so he will have to wait his turn or push the issue with his play if, and, when a spot opens up for him to get some games in at the NHL level.
For his part, Clarke seems to understand that Utica’s top young players will earn their chance if they keep playing well. In an interview with Peter Robinson of NHL.COM, Clarke talked about his broken hand and losing another year of development when COVID shut down the OHL, but he was not keen on making excuses. [NHL.COM]
A CONCLUSION OF SORTS
Of the names mentioned in Graeme’s quote, A.J. Greer may be the most telling. While Clarke is still on his ELC with plenty of years of team control, the Devils are in a position to trade for a key piece at the deadline. Could Clarke be dealt? If not him, perhaps, a roster player like Fabian Zetterlund will be included as part of a package, thus opening up a spot for Clarke on the Devils roster? Anything is possible. As of right now, Clarke will have to bide his time in the AHL until he gets his opportunity. Given the adversity Clarke has faced thus far, it would be unwise to bet against him.
Heading into the AHL All-Star break, the Utica Comets are second in the North Division with a 22-16-5-2 record, eleven points behind first place Toronto Marlies and two points ahead of third place Syracuse Crunch. After a slow start, the Comets have been trending upwards thanks largely to the break out season of Graeme Clarke and the consistent goaltending of Akira Schmid.
With Jack Dugan and Brian Halonen soon to be aging out of the prospect pool and Aarne Talvitie still goalless in thirty-four games, the only three Utica forwards Devils fans need pay close attention to are Graeme Clarke, Tyce Thompson and Nolan Foote. Graeme Clarke has been the best of three, leading Utica in most of the relevant offensive counting stats (Goals, Assists, Points, Pts/G, SOG). Clarke’s pts/g total has dipped in the past week, but is still up to 0.8 pts/g from the 0.58 pts/g he had during last update.
Simon Nemec is now tied for second in goals amongst rookie defensemen in the AHL, one behind Ronnie Attard, who is 23-years-old. Despite his age, Attard qualifies as an AHL rookie even though he played three years in the NCAA for Western Michigan before turning pro and then suited up for fifteen games for the Philadelphia Flyers last season.
Nikita Okhotiuk has been consistent since his injury and in between callups to New Jersey and is up to six points in only eighteen games. Reilly Walsh has also been consistent staying just below a half point per game, but one wonders what the Devils plans are with the offensive defenseman.
Much like the NHL, Akira Schmid has taken the reigns away from Nico Daws as the clear number one goalie in Utica. Amongst all AHL goaltenders league-wide, Schmid is currently 7th in GAA and 14th in SV%, while Daws has seen a dip in both of those numbers since last update and now hovers at the .900% line. While Daws is far from a lost cause, he will need to improve if he wants to be back in the conversation as a potential callup should an opportunity arise.
UTICA COMET OF THE MONTH
Graeme Clarke has been the strongest Comet since last update. Stick tap.
AROUND THE POOL
- Seamus Casey is out with a leg injury. [M-Live]
- Chase Stillman recently returned from a three game suspension for two game misconduct penalties he incurred “instigating” a fight with Alec Leonard in response to getting cross-checked nine times. In what totally seems completely fair and not at all ridiculous, Alec Leonard does not appear to have been also suspended for the nine crosschecks nor did he receive an instigator penalty for, I’ll repeat, nine crosschecks. Leonard did get a minor penalty for cross-checking in addition to the fighting major, so I guess there’s that. [The Petersborough Examiner]
- No surprise that Luke Hughes was the star of the week after his four goal performance.
- Arseni Gritsyuk is still pretty good.
Now is the time to tell us what you think. Post your comments below. Next week the prospect update cycles back to the Canadian Juniors.