Ian Clark seems to find success wherever he goes. Before he morphed Sergei Bobrovsky into a Vezina calibre goaltender over in Columbus with the Blue Jackets, he was Roberto Luongo’s goalie coach in Vancouver until 2011.
As if that isn’t impressive enough, taking into account how vital Clark was in completely transforming Jacob Markstrom into an elite number one goaltender only further proves that you may be hard-pressed to find many better goaltending coaches in the world.
At least, that’s what Markstrom thinks.
“He’s one of the best goalie coaches in the world,” the Canucks’ starter said back in May over a Zoom call with the media. “To work with him every day, it’s a privilege.”
But Clark’s services for the Canucks go far beyond what he does with goaltenders on the ice during practices. He’s got an eye for talent, and the Vancouver Canucks will undoubtedly consult with him before making a goaltending decision this offseason that could very well define the current management’s group legacy.
Before he departed from Columbus, Clark played a major role in their 2018 draft. The Jackets took Veini Vehvilainen in the sixth round, and added to an already loaded goalie prospect pipeline that Clark helped construct.
That pipeline featured names like Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins, whose performances in the postseason helped the Jackets knock off the Toronto Maple Leafs and put up a good fight against the loaded Tampa Bay Lightning.
Just this past February, when Clark was well into his second year with the Canucks, Columbus AGM Bill Zito gave Clark a tip of the hat for his scouting of Elvis Merzlikins and Daniil Tarasov.
Aaron Portzline of The Athletic — who described Clark’s replacement as being someone who would need to replace a “psychiatrist, psychologist, mechanic, technician, statistical analyst, video coach, scout and confidant” — wrote the following before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft took place:
“The Blue Jackets relied on Clark to highlight a cluster of prospects worth drafting each season, in addition to undrafted players who might be worthy of a free-agent contract.
That’s how they landed on Tarasov (third round) in last year’s draft, Thome (sixth round) in 2016, etc. That’s how they signed Kivlenieks and Kulbakov out of the USHL.
With Kekalainen and Zito overseas, Davidson met with Clark on Wednesday to discuss prospects available in this year’s draft, June 22-23 in Dallas. It will be his last official business with the club before he moves on.”
He has an undeniable eye for talent and being apart of decisions that extend beyond the ice is nothing new for Clark.
“With Clark, it’s about what he does day in and day out with anyone he works with,” said Mark Scheig, a Senior Writer with The Hockey Writers.
“In Columbus, he did have a significant role on the scouting side. The Blue Jackets are a team that believes strongly in their vision, they pick good players and high character guys. Clark has an amazing eye for spotting later talent. Korpisalo and Elvis are evidence of that. Not only good athletes but those who have it together mentally.
One of the main reasons Columbus has one of the best goaltending pipelines is because they’ve been able to identify talent consistently in the later rounds. Perhaps their best prospect, 6-6 Daniil Tarasov, went much later in the draft due to injury history. But Clark and the Jackets knew him from before and saw the talent. Kekalainen has such a trust for anyone in his staff esp when Clark was there. That’s the key. Many GMs get heavily involved in scouting. Kekalainen allows his staff to do their job and they get a huge say in who they target. Clark paid that trust off big time.”
Because of the trust Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen had in Clark, it allowed the Jackets to be confident enough in what they had in Merzlikins and Korpisalo — two guys Clark was very high on — to walk away from their Vezina winning goaltender in Bobrovsky when he became an unrestricted free agent who was due for a big pay raise.
Now, the Canucks find themselves in a similar position.
Jacob Markstrom, rightfully so, is due for a big pay raise this offseason, and many have suggested he’ll be looking for a multi-year deal that pays him around $6 million annually. In a flat cap world, the Canucks may want to look long and hard at allowing another team to sign that cheque.
Markstrom was a key piece of their team this year, and moving on from him is undoubtedly a gamble going into next year. In the long term, it has a better chance of paying off — Demko is 24 and Markstrom is 30, after all — but next year, when the Canucks still have Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes on ELC’s, they’ll want to do everything they can to make the playoffs once again.
The Canucks have a keen eye for goalie talent and potential already under contract, and they will consult with that voice as they attempt to make the correct decision on a move that will impact their franchise for years to come.