LA Kings: Kale Clague bringing better defensive game back from Ontario

Filling in for Matt Roy on the LA Kings defensive pairings, Kale Clague is using experience learned from time with the Ontario Reign.

There’s been some shifting of players on the LA Kings defensive units lately. Kale Clague was the latest to be re-introduced to the bottom-four defenders due to injuries and Matt Roy landing on the NHL’s COVID protocol list ahead of the Kings rematch with the Sharks on Saturday.

Prior to this season, Clague had just four NHL games under his belt. He likely made his 2021 debut sooner than expected due to an earlier set of injuries when both Roy and Sean Walker were injured in the same game against the Minnesota Wild.

Clague, who will turn 23 years old on June 5, registered three assists in 11 games before an emergency call-up on Saturday. He was sent back down to Ontario following the Kings’ 6-2 victory over San Jose back on February 11. With the Reign, Clague tallied six points in 18 games, including the overtime winner against Tucson at the end of March.

“[I’m] slowly building my confidence, and I just want to get that confidence and find a groove here in this league,” the Regina, SK native said following the LA Kings 3-2 loss against the Sharks on Saturday. “And, you know, it’s a good time. Obviously, there’s a huge opportunity with some guys out, and I just want to try to make the most of it here.”

Clague has shown quite a bit of offensive upside from the blueline in both junior hockey and the previous two seasons with the Reign, accumulating 29 and 25 points in the 18-19 and 19-20 seasons, respectively.

The Reign have had their struggles defensively this season, yielding 95 goals, far and away the most in the AHL. Clague has a -10 rating while serving as an alternate captain for Ontario. That said, becoming a two-way defenseman was a focal point during his time with the Kings’ AHL affiliate.

“I wanted to go down there work on my defensive game [and] get some confidence with the puck and that sort of thing,” Clague explained. “So, it’s good to be back here with these guys…There’s a lot of faith in that room to keep pushing for the playoffs.”

Clague and Walker are two players along the blueline who can play on both the left and right sides. A natural left-handed shot, Clague slotted into Roy’s spot on the right side for the series finale against the Sharks.

With Austin Strand back into the fold as well, Walker shifted to the left side on the third pairing. That kind of shuffling can wreak havoc on many teams, but good communication can avoid any significant issues.

The Kings have no shortage of ‘talkers’ on the blueline with Drew Doughty and 21-year-old Mikey Anderson regularly shouting out calls, and it appears that’s trickled down to the bottom-four defenders.

“Going in, we know that that’s a possibility to bounce around a little bit. But you know, if we have lots of talk and good support with each other, [it] makes it a lot easier,” Clague said.

Clague and the Kings open a critical two-game series against the Arizona Coyotes on Monday with puck drop set for 7 pm PT.