Despite Alex Turcot remaining on the bench due to the persistent effects of two concussions last season, Bifield and Clark have been fully involved in both scrimmages. Byfield lined up between former Ontario teammate Reign Arthur Kaliyev and revitalized Alex Iafallo. Meanwhile, Clarke has been paired with the Kings’ oldest defender, 36-year-old Alex Edler, who is likely to join Anzi Kopetar and Drew Dottie at the club’s 1,000th appearance this season.
“You can’t get this anywhere else, it’s like learning from the best,” said Clarke, who has immersed intently in everything from reading a pre-match Adler to Doughty’s media availability. They are very good at explaining what they see on the ice.”
Mickey Anderson, who said he “bet himself” on signing a one-year deal ahead of his third full season in the National Hockey League, can still relate to Clarke’s enthusiasm about Doughty in particular.
“You could be a 10-year-old and still feel like a rookie next to him,” Anderson said. “It’s fun, you get a good mix. We have the old and the new, so it’s fun getting to know them. I’ve known Drew for the past three years now and now I’m getting to know Brandt a little bit, and it’s fun to see the comparisons.”
Clarke, 19, was involved in a high-score brawl, which didn’t particularly feature quarterback Philippe Danault, who was day in and day out over what McClellan described as a “muscular problem”. Clarke and Bifield both scored assists, with Byfield coming in after winning a confrontation to set up a goal through defender Sean Walker.
While Day One went to penalty shootouts in 2, Friday’s action saw six goals each side, including a beautiful throw-and-take game that saw Clarke get a key assist in a goal by former New York striker Alan Quinn.
“I think it’s one of my best, being able to think about the game and see things, no matter how fast, being able to keep making my plays, being aware of where I have time and where I have to rush myself,” Clark said. “I see things out there and I want to attack holes, I don’t want to sit because I know where everyone is on the ice. I think this is one of my strong suits and it helps me hang out with these guys.”
McClellan said Clark showed creativity, evasiveness and imagination from a young age. He said Clark continued to hone these qualities while also working on his defense and detail. While McClellan has evaluated Clarke’s play so far in the camp positively, he stopped short of discussing Clarke’s later immediate future.
“We’re really looking forward to playing it against the top NHL players and seeing what happens. Other than that, there’s no other plan at this point,” McClellan said.
On the other hand, Byfield played in 40 NHL games last year and six the year before, making next season an important springboard. The second overall pick in 2020 saw the drafted players on both sides make their moves. Top pick Alexis Lafreniere scored 15 out of 31 points last season in the final two months of the campaign for the New York Rangers. Ottawa Senator’s No. 3 overall pick, Tim Stutzel, was rewarded last season with an eight-year contract extension worth more than $66 million.
For Byfield, 20, there was lost development time to an OHL campaign that was canceled two seasons ago and a broken ankle he sustained during pre-season last year. However, he said he is looking forward to achieving tangible results in 2022-23.
“All my life I’ve been an offensive player with junior hockey, OHL and even in the MLS, I’ve been producing as well,” Bifield said. “So, I think that’s something I really want to do, be more flexible and do some plays, be more confident with the disc.”
Byfield refused to set a goal or benchmark for himself statistically, however.
“I think it’s kind of ‘confidence in the process.’ I was kind of feeling the puck a little bit, and I grabbed it and did plays,” he said. “I know I can play, so I just need to be more confident in myself and in my game. The rest will follow.McClellan said he has seen nothing but “positive signs” from Byfield this season and in the early part of training camp. He, too, said there was no numerical measure for Byfield, and instead focused on the subtle components of Byfield’s game.
“In fights, he’s on his feet a lot. He gets out of those fights with the disc and gets to his next job,” McClellan said. “He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he can handle his size.”
“If he continues to approach it that way and doesn’t worry about goals and assists, I think he will do some assists and goals,” McClellan added.