Brendon Clavelle has gone from walk-on to depth defenceman to a crucial part of the Charlottetown Islanders success.
The 19-year-old Kapuskasing, Ont., native has accomplished the dramatic rise in about 1 ½ seasons with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League squad.
“I never thought I’d be here,” Clavelle said before Tuesday’s practice. “This is amazing.”
The young stay-at-home defenceman was playing junior A in Pembroke, Ont., when he got a call from the Islanders. He explored the major junior option, attended a free agent camp and came to training camp in August 2017.
The Islanders were intrigued by his play but couldn’t have imagined the impact he would have.
“He’s far exceeded what we thought,” head coach and general manager Jim Hulton said.
“He has done nothing but impress and improve and surprise . . . since he came in,” he added. “He might have been our best defenceman in the playoffs last year.”
Clavelle came into his own a year ago after returning from a separated shoulder that sidelined him for most of February.
“When I came back, I played better, I don't know why,” Clavelle said. “Everything kind of clicked.”
He was paired with Hunter Drew and they were often sent out to shut down top offensive threats during the Islanders run to the semifinal.
“He’s a big help to myself personally and to the team,” Drew said. “Sometimes I get caught and he’s there and vice-versa. We try to help each other out. . .
“People don't realize the little plays he makes or that he’s always in position.”
Clavelle can play either side, is a mainstay on the penalty kill and can fill in on the power play. He’s a minute-munching defenceman, but his value runs deeper than on the ice.
“He’s a kid that has always punched the clock hard with his effort whether it’s in the gym or after practice,” Hulton said.
Clavelle stayed on the Island last summer, worked with Andrews Hockey Growth Programs and skated with some of the Island’s professional hockey players. He also worked with team nutritionist Nancy Fong and came to camp in great shape.
“He’s actually reduced his weight but added strength and you can see that on the ice,” Hulton said of the six-foot, 190-pound defenceman. “He doesn't back down from anything. He’s sneaky strong because his stature doesn’t look that big, but when guys hit him or when he hits them, they feel impact.”
Clavelle has also taken on a leadership role this year. He has worn an A all season and has stepped up following the trade of captain Pierre-Olivier Joseph and five-year veteran Keith Getson. Hulton said he is a terrific teammate who treats each player the same whether they are 16 or 20 years old. He provides energy and works his tail off.
Clavelle and Islanders associate coach Guy Girouard are from the same community, and Girouard knew Clavelle’s family. It gave the team a sense of what they were getting.
“He comes from good stock,” Hulton said. “When you meet him, you instantly like this kid. He has that demeanour about him that’s full of energy and (always has) a smile on his face.”
Clavelle is thankful he took the chance to come east.
“You don't really know what to expect when you come from northern Ontario,” Clavelle said. “The coaching staff, when I first got here, was amazing. They treated me great.”
While the Islanders have done well mining overlooked talent in Ontario, Hulton said it was through desperation at times and there have been cases where it hasn’t worked out. He said it is not realistic to expect to find a Clavelle or Drew regularly, but the team is continuing to scout the region for gems.
“It’s a tough well to go to all the time,” he said.
The franchise is in a position now to look for specifics after building the needed depth. It is looking for some size to fill out next season’s roster.
Need to know
Who – A 19-year-old defenceman with the Charlottetown Islanders.
Personal – The six-foot, 190-pound Clavelle is from Kapuskasing, Ont.
First goal – Clavelle scored his first major junior goal in Game 5 of the first-round series with the Quebec Remparts in last year’s playoffs.
Head coach Jim Hulton: “Heading down the stretch, and in the playoffs, he will be the key guy in matchups against other team’s top lines.”
Clavelle on playing against future NHLers: “You just try to do your job. You’re in the moment and not really thinking about that. I think it’s going to be when you’re older – when I am working, and those guys are playing in the NHL – . . . it is really going to sink in.”
Season GP G A Pts.
2017-18 56 0 7 7
2018-19 52 2 13 15
Tonight – The Islanders host the Gatineau Olympiques at 7 p.m. at the Eastlink Centre. CLICK HERE for Tuesday's results against Saint John.