In conversations about the Washington Capitals’ near-future, too much time is spent contemplating Alex Ovechkin’s race against history. In case you aren’t aware, the Great Eight must average 33 goals per season over the next five seasons if he is to surpass Wayne Gretzky’s record tally. Frankly, the Russian’s talent is astonishing. But that isn’t news — which means it wouldn’t be unfair to shift our focus towards the Caps’ next wave of talent, including Kody Clark — who faces a make-or-break year with the Hershey Bears.
Now, that isn’t to suggest that Clark is going to the Capitals’ next big thing. Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre, to name just two examples, hold more promise. They were also selected earlier in their respective drafts, have age on their side, and Lapierre even scored in the team’s home opener.
However, Clark — the 1999-born son of Wendall Clark — offers significant upside of his own. Picked by the Caps 47th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, he is yet to make his major league debut, but he will soon enough.
Kody Clark’s Career So Far
Clark, who will be a restricted free agent at the end of 2022-23, is well-positioned for a breakout year if — and it’s a big if — he can stay healthy. The 22-year-old’s season will start in the American Hockey League (AHL), where he was named on the opening night roster for the Hershey Bears.
With defenceman Alex Alexeyev also assigned to the Bears to begin 2021-22, Clark stands amongst a group of interesting prospects in Hershey. Washington’s AHL affiliate also has the benefit of having Stanley Cup-winning blueliner Michal Kempny on their roster — adding much-needed experience to their blend.
In other words, Clark has found himself in the right spot. If newly appointed Bears head coach Scott Allen can cultivate the right environment in Hershey, his 6-foot-3 right-winger could be in for a transformational season — which injury deprived him of last time out.
So far, Clark’s time in the AHL has been tricky. He registered nine points (three goals, six assists) in 31 appearances during his rookie year — giving him a point per game (P/G) clip of 0.29. A season later, he ended the season with 0.474 P/G after notching nine points (seven goals, two assists) in 19 appearances.
Injuries, though, have been a recurring issue for Clark. His promising sophomore season in the AHL was cut short in April by an upper-body issue, adding to the shoulder injury that sidelined him for a month the season prior. Had Clark stayed healthy through 2020-21, he would be entering this season with much less to prove. He has, however, proven himself before. After an underwhelming debut season in the Ontario Hockey League (where he contributed 11 points in 57 games), the former second-round pick saw his form surge to new heights. In his final two regular seasons with the Ottawa 67’s, Clark registered 85 points (35 goals, 50 assists) in 113 games.
Is Physicality Key for Kody Clark?
Clark has a record of starting slowly in a new league before shifting into top gear. Unsurprisingly, the Capitals hope the trend will continue, with director of player development Steve Richmond impressed by the American’s growth since he entered the system.
“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,” Richmond explained, “I think the biggest thing, though, is his physical game has really come out.” (from ‘Capitals See some of Tom Wilson in prospect Kody Clark, Washington Post, 29/09/2019)
Making use of his frame will be a difference-maker for Clark throughout his career. Those 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-wingers who handle the puck with an air of grace don’t come around often, but that is exactly what the 22-year-old is. Last season, he used his body well along the boards, wasn’t afraid of getting into dirty areas, and won more puck battles than previously.
In other words, Clark has started to combine his physical advantages with his ability to put the puck in the net, which is likely what the Capitals had in mind when they drafted him.
Clark turned into a key player for the 67’s by the time his OHL spell came to an end. If he can build on his pre-injury form from last season, he will be an important player for Hershey this season — putting him back on course to become a middle-six NHL forward in the seasons ahead. Opportunity is knocking for Clark, and it’s time for him to open the door and kickstart his career.
Luke is an award-winning freelance sports journalist from London, England. In addition to his work on the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators for THW, he covers the Elite Ice Hockey League for British Ice Hockey and world soccer for numerous publications, including on Substack. To stay up to date with his content, follow @LukeJames_32 on Twitter.