No matter how many times you hear the old adage, sometimes it's hard not to judge a book by its cover. So if you're a New York Islanders fan, you'd be forgiven if you questioned the team's signing of Jason Clark over the summer.
Clark was the fourth forward drafted by the Islanders in the 2010 draft, following the likes of Nino Niederreiter, Brock Nelson, and Kirill Kabanov. Coming off two underachieving college seasons at the University of Wisconsin and two hip surgeries, Clark seemed an unlikely candidate to join his fellow draftmates in what was an already crowded Bridgeport forward corps.
But after he accepted an invitation to play in his second Islanders prospect camp this past summer, the team saw something in the 3rd round pick (82nd overall) that made them think it was the right time for him to move to the professional ranks. Clark agrees that his prospect camp play was a factor in his signing.
"I thought I played well in the scrimmage and that allowed me an opportunity to become part of the organization earlier than those who saw my college numbers would have expected," Clark explained.
While the club was impressed with Clark, he came away with an equal admiration for the Islanders:
"I have a lot of respect for the Islanders organization because they take pride in their draft picks, and it shapes what I feel is a family atmosphere at prospect camps."
Clark and the Islanders agreed to an Entry Level Contract in July, ending his playing days at Wisconsin after just two seasons and just two assists. That was a far cry from the production that everyone expected from Clark after he starred at Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Minnesota.
And even though his results on the ice weren't what he had hoped, Clark tells us the decision to leave Wisconsin was still a difficult one:
"Well those decisions are never easy. Wisconsin is without a doubt an unbelievable place to play college hockey. Everything there is amazing, from the coaches and academic advisors to the facilities. It was an emotional challenge to leave a program I never contributed to as well as I should have. That will always be hard to deal with."
Since arriving at Bridgeport, the playing time for Clark has been sparse so far, finding himself stuck behind a group of more experienced forwards. But Clark has worked hard in practice and is very happy with his decision to turn pro.
"I love my team...[and] playing for unbelievable teammates and coaches here at Bridgeport," he said. "I couldn't be happier where I am."
He is also 100% healthy and has made a smooth transition to the professional game, something he attributes to a couple of key factors:
"My size and speed made it an easier transition for me. The speed is similar but there's less room with how much bigger players are compared to college. I was fortunate to play for two of the best coaches and teachers in hockey with Coach Ward at Shattuck and Coach Eaves at Wisconsin. I think because of that I couldn't have been more well prepared."
Clark dressed in both games this weekend for the Sound Tigers, and while the end result for the team wasn't good, Clark's performance was. He totaled 4 shots on goal and a +1 rating, while collecting 2 assists -- his first two as a pro. The assists weren't cheapies either, one being a nice one-touch pass to spring Sean Backman on a breakaway. The other was a nice feed of the puck to Brandon DeFazio, who buried it in the back of the net.
Clark's play this weekend was a display of the promise Garth Snow and the Islanders saw this past summer. Clark knows that it's just a matter of proving them right.
"Now it's about how well I can go play hockey every opportunity I get," he said before the weekend. "I have no excuses not to succeed."
If he can continue to play the way he did this weekend, success will be there for Jason Clark. And then Islanders fans will have no excuses to not start noticing.