Special to AnaheimDucks.com
In his first full season in the American Hockey League, Ducks prospect Mat Clark
has made rapid strides in his game and it has caught the attention of his coaches in Syracuse.
|“I was a late OHL draft pick, just a small kid who hit a growth spurt and kept working hard,” Clark said. “Hopefully I can keep that mentality here. It’s always what has gotten me to the next level, so hopefully I can get up there whenever they need me." |
“He started the year a deer in the headlights and I think that he’s improved as the season has gone on,” said Syracuse Crunch head coach Mark Holick about the defenseman. “He works hard in practice every day and has had some bumps in the road. But he has played pretty well as of late.”
The 6-3, 221-pound second round draft selection by Anaheim in the 2009 Entry Draft is playing his first professional season with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL after just two campaigns at the major junior level with Brampton of the Ontario Hockey League.
Just two years because he is a bit of a late-bloomer who played as a 16 and 17-year-old in the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League—also with a team in Brampton—prior to the jump to the Junior A level at the relatively late age of 18.
“I was a late OHL draft pick, just a small kid who hit a growth spurt and kept working hard,” said Clark following a late-January home game. “Hopefully I can keep that mentality here. It’s always what has gotten me to the next level, so hopefully I can get up there whenever they need me.
“I’m a defensive defenseman and I try to make that my focus. When you start at a new level there are learning curves, so I’m trying to learn the defensive end first before I even think more offensively.”
The Wheat Ridge, Colorado native spent the first four years of his life in the United States before his family headed north to Canada. Should he make the jump to the NHL someday, he would become just the second regular defenseman born in Colorado following New Jersey Devils first round draft pick David Hale.
|“Pro hockey is completely different and I learned that pretty quickly," Clark said. "It’s a job now and I need to perform night in and night out, but at the same time it’s a lot of fun as well. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” |
Last season in Brampton, Clark led all Battalion defensemen in scoring with seven goals and was second among team blueliners with 16 assists over 66 games. He then joined Manitoba of the AHL for the final game of their regular season and saw action in six more postseason games with the Moose.
He netted his first professional goal on December 11 this season against Bridgeport eight days after his first professional point—an assist at Rochester on December 3.
“Personally I’ve had some ups and downs, but I’m learning a lot here and the coaches are really helping me,” said Clark. “We have a pretty young team but we have some veterans here I’m learning a lot from, so I’m really happy with my development and hopefully we can start winning some games down here.”
Through the first 47 games this season, Clark had a minus-16 rating, but that can largely be attributed to Syracuse scoring the third fewest goals in the league with 16 victories.
“Pro hockey is completely different and I learned that pretty quickly. It’s a job now and I need to perform night in and night out, but at the same time it’s a lot of fun as well. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
As for going in the second round to Anaheim (37th overall), Clark said, “I knew I had a good year and I knew we had a real good team that went pretty far in the playoffs (the OHL Finals against Windsor).
“I knew people were watching, but I just went in open minded. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what round you go in, but I’m real happy to go where I did and to an organization like this.
|“You go to any team and there will be huge competition," Clark said. "The great thing about hockey is that there is always someone there to try to push you, to try to make you better and try to take your spot so hopefully I can learn a lot here and keep moving forward.” |
“Just because I went in the second round doesn’t mean that I will get a better chance than anyone else. I certainly don’t think of myself as better off because I got drafted higher; I try to apply the same work ethic as if I went undrafted.”
The Ducks have committed early round draft selections on defensemen in two of the last three years with 2010 first round pick Cam Fowler
already with the parent team. 2008 first rounder Jake Gardiner is in his junior season after winning the NCAA National Championship last season with the University of Wisconsin Badgers.
Badgers teammate and sophomore Justin Schultz
went in the second round (43rd overall) in the same 2008 draft and is the leading scorer this season for Wisconsin as of February 1 with 39 points in 30 games. With Clark also in the mix on the blue line in the coming years, there figures to be quite the competition for roster spots and ice time in the near future.
“You go to any team and there will be huge competition," Clark said. "The great thing about hockey is that there is always someone there to try to push you, to try to make you better and try to take your spot so hopefully I can learn a lot here and keep moving forward.”