John Leonard
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Prospects Report

John Leonard impressing the Sharks

by McKeen's Hockey
Updated On: January 20, 2021, 12:56 am ET

In our second column of the 2021 season, we return to the format we followed last season. We will provide a profile of a top ranked 2021 NHL Draft prospect by one of our team of scouts/analysts stationed around the world. This week, Brock Otten, part of our leadership group at McKeen’s, reports on Brandt Clarke, who had anticipated playing in the OHL but has been skating in Slovakia recently in this most unusual of seasons.

The team at McKeen’s put together a report on the many junior leagues around the world and how they are coping with a global pandemic in Covid-19. You can read it here. We have left it unlocked so you do not need to be a subscriber to read it. It is a fascinating read and demonstrates the challenges in scouting the 2021 draft group. The importance of video scouting will become critical, and our team is well established to take advantage. Having had many live viewings of many at the top end of the draft in prior season, our partnership with Instat Hockey provides our team with the tools they need to meet the challenge of the coming season.

While it would be foolish to suggest anything is set in stone in these times, we can at least reasonably expect the NHL Draft to go ahead at the end of July, welcoming the Seattle Kraken to the table. To that end, we are busy putting together our initial list of 32 prospects and should release it in the next few weeks as we kick off our coverage. Look for a detailed report on Sweden’s highly touted Jesper Wallstedt by Jimmy Hamrin in the coming days.

In the ‘Prospects in the News’ segment Peter Harling looks closely at John Leonard of the San Jose Sharks who is catching headlines starting alongside Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane in the Sharks top six.

The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website:

2021 NHL Draft Prospect

By Brock Otten

Brandt Clarke

2019-20 Barrie Colts, OHL, 57GP-6G-32A-38PTS

2020-21 HC Nove Zamky, Slovakia, 8GP-0G-0A-0PTS

Scouting for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft has been incredibly challenging thus far, no more so than in the region of Ontario. Due to rolling lockdowns and restrictions, because of the COVID pandemic, the Ontario Hockey League has yet to begin play this season. Many prospects have not yet played a meaningful game in their draft years. Others have relocated to continue to their development, on loan to European club teams. One of those players is top defenseman Brandt Clarke, who has been playing in Slovakia with HC Nove Zamky for the last month or so. Clarke made the switch to the Slovakian men’s league along with his brother, Graeme, a New Jersey Devils draft pick and fellow OHL’er, at the end of December. 

Considered by many to be a candidate for the top five of the 2021 NHL Draft, Clarke is the perfect modern day NHL defender. Coming through the Don Mills Flyers minor hockey program, Clarke was a standout at an early age and captured an OHL Cup (U16 Championship) with the Flyers, on a team that also included phenom Shane Wright. As such, he was selected 4th overall by the Barrie Colts in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection. His first OHL season (as abrupt as it may have been) was largely a success as Clarke found himself named to the OHL’s All Rookie team.  

A coveted right shot defender, Clarke has very few weaknesses as a player and prospect. He possesses excellent four-way mobility, which he uses to make an impact at both ends of the ice. Blessed with terrific instincts offensively and defensively, he projects as an all situations, minute eating defender at the NHL level. He continues to gain confidence in being able to use his quickness to activate offensively and his hands and vision are both excellent, which allows him to navigate the neutral zone in order to successfully gain entry to the offensive zone. In the second half of the most recent OHL season, Clarke also grew exponentially as a powerplay QB, gaining the confidence and poise to direct from the blueline. From a defensive perspective, Clarke shows great gap control when defending in transition and is working hard to improve the consistency of his physicality to improve his effectiveness in tight spaces. By increasing that intensity level, he can be more difficult to play against.

In the Slovakian men’s league this season, Clarke has yet to register a point through eight games (as of writing this). However, his play has been better than that statline would indicate. He has been averaging well over 20 minutes per game and playing in all situations for HC Nove Zamky. Most impressively, he has shown great confidence in his offensive abilities and has been ultra-aggressive in pushing the pace by leading the breakout and jumping up into the attack. He has also made a concerted attempt to play more physical, even receiving a game misconduct for a check to the head in one of his games. Having watched several of his games in Slovakia (via video scouting), it can be said confidently that it is only a matter of time before his offensive production begins to improve given how well he is playing. 

Whether the OHL is able to start the 2020-21 season or not remains to be seen. Regardless of what happens in Ontario, Clarke is expected to be a contender for a top 5 selection in 2021 and projects as the kind of defender an NHL team can build their blueline around.

Editor’s Note: Drafting is only half the battle! Get an edge on your competition all season long with rankings, projections, trade evaluator, lineup adviser and much more with our NHL Season Tools. Click here to learn more!

Prospects in the News:

By Peter Harling

John Leonard, San Jose Sharks

2019-20 UMass (Amherst), NCAA, 33GP-27G-10A-37PTS

2020-21 San Jose Sharks, NHL, 3GP-0G-2A-0PTS

The NHL season has begun, and your fantasy draft have been completed. 

Now it is time to start looking to see what players are making a fantasy impact that slipped through the draft.

This is quite often a rookie as they are seldom assured of a roster position. But now that the games have begun, there are some rookies who made the cut, and are cutting the mustard!

Currently sitting at the top of the rookie scoring lead is quite predictably Kirill Kaprizov. It is also a safe bet that he was drafted in your fantasy draft.

But if you look a little further the name of John Leonard may jump out at you. Quite probably because you have never heard of him before. 

John Leonard was a 2018 draft selection of the San Jose Sharks who selected the Amherst native with the 182nd selection in the sixth round, as a D+2 player.

Leonard played three season of NCAA hockey with UMass. His junior season was dominant as he was a Hobey Baker finalist after posting 27 goals and 37 points in 33 games.

Leonard being a late round pick who has never played internationally with USA was a widely unknown commodity heading into his rookie pro season. But despite the odds the 22-year-old made enough of an impression to not only crack the Sharks opening night roster but earn a top six role on the second line with Tomas Hertl as his center and Evander Kane on the right side.

In his debut he posted two points, two assists setting up both Kane and Hertl for goals and seeing 13:14 minutes of ice-time. Leonard has shown early chemistry with his line-mates but will need to produce consistently to remain in that plum role.

Leonard is a skilled winger with speed, albeit not a burner like Andreas Athanasiou. His 27 goals with UMass last year, lead the NCAA and is a testament to his scoring ability, and shot. That skill set will get you a look at the pro level to be sure. But it takes more than that to succeed in the NHL, and Leonard has shown he is more than a goal scorer. His physical play is not overwhelming at 5-11 and 185 pounds, but he positions himself well, protects the puck and keeps his head up. He reads plays well showing a strong hockey sense, supporting the puck and his teammates, anticipates plays well and has the ability to play with great players.

Looking forward and predicting if Leonard is a long-term fantasy-relevant option or not, I ask myself two questions.

First, has he looked good so far?

Second, what is his competition like?

Looking at the first question, how has he looked; Two points in his debut with rave reviews from his head coach such as this quote from San Jose Hockey Now

Defensively, he was responsible. I think as we move along here, we’re going to see more added duties. A little bit more ice-time, for sure, I think he deserves it,” Boughner said. “He’s earned the right to be on that line.”

I like what I saw from the rookie and a lot of his online reviews have been glowing. Sheng Peng who covers the Sharks said 

I've already decided that John Leonard is better than Danil Yurtaykin

— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 15, 2021

That comment from Peng brings me to my next question, what is the competition like?

Leonard is a left winger and his primary competition for a top six role with the Sharks will come from Timo Meier (who has a lock on the first line left wing), Evander Kane (Who has moved to the right side on his line).

Newly acquired left winger Ryan Donato, who is on his third team in two years, will push for the job.

Beyond that, there really is no significant competition coming from the likes of Marcus Sorensen, Stefan Noesen, Matt Nieto, or even Danil Yurtaykin.

The Sharks may be looking at a rebuild or a changing of the guard. Patrick Marleau may be in his farewell tour season. Long time face of the franchise Joe Thornton left for a shot at a Cup in Toronto. The Sharks prospect pipeline is not very strong with boom-or-bust enigmatic Ryan Merkley as the top prospect. Beyond that it gets pretty murky pretty fast. 

So not only does Leonard have a good opportunity immediately to establish himself as an NHL top six winger, but there is also little competition coming in the near future that can challenge him for the role as well.

McKeen's Hockey

McKeen’s Hockey has been writing about NHL hockey and covering prospects for 25 years. Our team of scouts and analysts are in rinks around the world providing insight into the NHL’s future at