TORONTO — The son of former NHL player Wendel Clark, Kody Clark has dealt with player comparisons for most of his hockey career. But these days, following a growth spurt and added physicality in his game, the Capitals are throwing out another, hoping Clark can follow Tom Wilson’s path to becoming a top-line player in Washington.
While that ambitious developmental goal may be the same as Wilson’s, the path will be reversed. Clark, a Toronto native, was just 5-foot-9 and 143 pounds when the Ottawa 67’s selected him at the 2015 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection. Following a growth spurt, he is now 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds and focusing on being tougher to play against this season.
“Obviously the more elements that you can add to your game, the further you’re going to make it in hockey and the more versatile you can be on an NHL or AHL roster, being able to play up and down the lineup,” said Clark. “I think two things I really want to work on are obviously my play away from the puck, my defensive game and my physicality.”
The Capitals' 2018 second-round selection was always regarded as a skilled player, but with the added size and physicality, Clark has evolved from a player on the periphery to one able to power his way inside to the net and be physical along the boards when called upon.
Unlike his father, Wendel, who had well over 100 fights and 1500 penalty minutes during his 13-year NHL career, Kody Clark wasn’t known to drop his gloves. That changed in October when he fought for the first time in his junior career. He had a second tilt in November.
“Those were my first two fights and I think just being one of the older guys now and standing up for my teammates if something goes wrong. If you got to do it, you go to do it,” Clark said. “Obviously being one of the older guys on the team now and instead of looking at someone else to do that role, I kind of look at myself to bring that each and every night.
“It was an area of my game that I wanted to improve on this season than past few seasons I had. Just playing more physical and making sure I finish all my checks and kind of adding that element to my game.”
Through 39 OHL games Clark has put together 13 goals and 19 assists and is well on his way to eclipsing his career-high 18 tallies from last season.
His ability to couple his offensive talents with a more physical brand of hockey is something that has caught the eye of Capitals Director of Player Development, Steve Richmond.
“I just think he’s more confident in his offensive talents, he’s really handling the puck and making plays all over the ice, not only for himself, but his teammates,” said Richmond. “I think the biggest thing though is his physical game has really come out. He’s shown a lot more physical play than he ever has.”
Clark and Richmond are in constant communication. Richmond sees Clark play 4-5 times a month and Clark fills in the gaps by filling out a weekly questionnaire outlining three things he did well in a given week and three things he’d like to improve on — helping the Capitals monitor their prospects’ progress throughout the season.
His ability to adapt and play a more well-rounded game was rewarded in October when the Capitals signed Clark to a three-year entry-level contract.
The 19-year-old appeared in two preseason games with Washington before being returned to the OHL. With that experience in his back pocket, Clark has his eyes set on turning pro next season.
That’s when the comparison to Wilson, who cracked the Capitals' roster at age 19, will really be put to the test.
“The more you can do, the more valuable you are. Tom Wilson started out as a bottom-six guy, now he’s a top-six guy because he worked,” said Richmond. “He had the physical part of the game, but he was working on his offensive game and now it came around. ...
“Kody’s more the opposite where he’s more of a skilled guy than he was a physical guy. Now he’s trying to make a good balance so it makes him more valuable to us.”
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