Developing a young goaltender is on a totally different landscape from what it takes to tackle a forward or defender. With so many teams and positions available for a player, the chances of developing with some solid talent along the way are pretty good. For goaltenders, however, it’s a totally different story. Each team will carry two or three goaltenders, with very little room for error if you plan on sticking full time in major junior. For that reason, goalies take a little longer to develop into a reliable option between the pipes, but, as Adrian Clark could prove, you don’t need to rush into action right away to be a superb goaltender.
Clark was just one of two CCHL prospects listed on the NHL’s CSS watch list for November, and for good reason. He could simply be one of the best Junior A goaltenders in his age group right now. The 17-year-old has already committed to Dartmouth College for the 2016-2017 season, making the announcement just a month into his first CCHL season. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise, though. Clark was a rock between the pipes for the stacked ’97 born Oakville Rangers Minor Midget AAA team a few years back, posting a 20-1-1 record to go along with a .933 SP and 0.95 GAA. To top off that incredible performance that year, he 15-2-3 in tournament play, which included a gold at the 2013 OHL Cup to finish off the season.
After spending last year with the Vaughan Kings Midget team, Clark moved on to the Central Canada Junior A Hockey League, where he has a 15-6-0 record in the first 21 games alone. It was expected that 2013-2014 CCHL Top Goaltender Guillaume Therien would steal most of the starts, but so far it’s been a split venture between the two goalies.
Clark’s play in the CCHL this year earned him a spot on Team Canada East for the recent World Junior A Challenge. Unfortunately for the youngster, Clark lost the starting job to the first player selected in the 2013 Maritime Junior A Hockey League Draft, Blade Mann-Dixon. Canada East would prove to be the stronger of the two Canadian teams in the end, but a disappointing fourth place finish following a tough loss to Russia meant that the hometown fans in Kindersley, Sask. would leave without seeing their country grab gold.
Standing at 6’3, 190 pounds, Clark is a big goalie that can use his size to his advantage. He doesn’t need to rely on heroic reflexes to make a big save late in the game, but can if he has to, similar to Jonathan Bernier and Carey Price. A key aspect to his game is his ability to read and predict plays when screened in front, having a good idea of where the puck is expected to land in advance. One thing that also stands out in his play is that he seems to get better as the game goes on. His tendency to adapt to the game allows him to expect certain things from certain players, giving him the chance to steal the game later on.
Clark will be given a fantastic chance to showcase his true talent at the upcoming Canadian Junior Hockey League Top Prospect Game, taking place in the town of his former Midget team, Oakville, Ontario. A potential late draft option for teams looking to add goaltending depth, Clark will join Dartmouth of the NCAA in two seasons and bypass his Ontario Hockey League eligibility with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. A smart kid, Clark has a lot going for him, and with the right steps along the way, he could be a very serviceable goaltender one day.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter @StevenEllisNHL.