Kody Clark says most of what he knows of his famous father’s NHL career comes from watching old highlights on YouTube.
Born nine days into Wendel Clark’s final NHL season, Kody didn’t fully understand the significance of his dad’s 15-year, 793-game career until his early teens. Wendel became Toronto’s longtime captain and one of the franchise’s most popular players thanks to his physical style combined with a nose for the net.
“People would always come up. They’d always tell him 10-minute stories, five minute stories about how he impacted them,” he recalled. “After that happened a bunch of times, I was just like, ‘Holy crap’.
“I started to realize how big of an impact he had on a lot of Leafs fans and hockey fans. Up until then, I just thought he was a dad. Didn’t really realize.”
Now hoping to become an NHL player in his own right, Kody cut back his time on the golf course over the summer in an effort to improve his off-season training program heading into his second Ontario Hockey League season with the Ottawa 67’s.
The results are evident three games into his NHL draft season. Kody has come back to the 67’s an inch taller and with an added 10 pounds to his frame, something scouts have taken note of.
“He’s certainly improved his foot speed, he’s a lot quicker,” said Ben Gallant, a scout with ISS Hockey. “He was always a guy that was pretty quick to get in on the forecheck and try turn pucks over, but with the extra weight, and the extra size, it’s helping him out a lot more.”
An avid golfer away from the rink, Kody showed off his added size and strength in last Friday’s 4-3 win over the Mississauga Steelheads, racing down the right wing and beating Jacob Ingham with a slap shot from the face-off dot for his first goal of the season.
Though there are few similarities between the Clarks’ games, Wendel believes there are some resemblances in their skating styles.
“He skates a lot the same and as he gets stronger, the shooting is getting stronger,” he said. “By the time he turns 20, is when he’ll be closer to his real weight.”
Living in a hockey-crazed Toronto market, Wendel never hesitated to enrol Kody in minor hockey in the GTA, but said Kody dealt with issues his teammates didn’t because of his last name.
“Growing up in Toronto, everybody wants to see how tough you are all the time,” he said. “That’s one of the things that he went through at a younger age even before hitting was starting and into hitting. He had to learn to take care of himself even though he didn’t play that way.”
Wendel coached Kody during in minor hockey, but now enjoys watching from the stands. They still talk on the phone almost everyday.
“Mostly just after games it’s about hockey,” Kody said. “He just says work hard and everything will take care of itself. Don’t get too caught up in points and stuff like that, just keep working hard and they’ll come.”
Described as a hybrid between a power forward and an energy guy, the six-foot-one, 180-pound Toronto native isn’t afraid to be physical. Ottawa coach Andre Tourigny uses Kody on the power play and as his responsibilities increase, Kody will also be used on the penalty kill this season.
The 17-year-old, who tries to model is game after Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon, is projected to be a third-line player at the NHL level that can contribute on special teams.
“His skating would still have to get a little bit better, because the game is getting so much faster,” said Gallant. “Continue to add strength, but that’s just physical strength as he continues to get older.”
Following his dad’s footsteps to the NHL will be a longer process for Kody. Wendel was the first overall selection at the 1985 NHL draft, but Kody isn’t expected to have his name called until at least the fourth round.