Nine games into his junior A career, Clark Nelson is still looking for his first point.
But don’t let the stat-line fool you.
The 18 year old is an important part of the 2018-19 Chilliwack Chiefs and the type of player you want beside you when the going gets tough.
Remember the 2016-17 Chiefs who went to a seventh game in the BCHL finals? Linden Hora had eight goals and 17 points in 51 games, but you could argue that the hard-nosed forward was one of the most valuable players in that playoff run.
Last year’s RBC Cup champions had Jared Turcotte, a player who posted seven goals and 11 points in 46 games, hardly eye-popping numbers. But in the playoffs and the RBC Cup, he was a banging, crashing disruptor for the Chiefs.
Nelson could be the same.
He could be better.
For now he’s finding his way.
“I understand there’s a lot of talented guys on this team, and everyone wants to play so sometimes I have to sit, but it’s not a big deal,” Nelson said. “When Brian (head coach Maloney) says I’m playing that night, it’s a really good feeling.”
Jacob Bestebroer has followed the Chiefs since day one and calls Nelson one of the toughest players he’s ever seen. The Cranbrook native posted 145 penalty minutes in just 34 games with the junior B Revelstoke Grizzlies last season.
“That’s a huge compliment,” Nelson said with a smile. “It’s special to have that said about you for sure. I like that and it’d feel good to say that’s accurate.”
Toughness takes many forms.
It’s laying out hits and taking them.
It’s wading fearlessly into board battles and fighting through mammoth defenders on your way to the net.
And it’s dropping the mitts.
“To me it’s standing up for your teammates, being willing to drop down and block a shot, being willing to go the extra mile,” Nelson said. “Every little thing you can do out there is a big energy boost for the boys because other guys see that and think, ‘He’s willing to do that, so let’s all get in gear here.”
Clark comes by his sandpaper game naturally.
Father Chad Nelson was a tough-as-nails defenceman who played for Chilliwack in 1994-95, racking up 209 PIMs in 45 games.
“He said it (Chilliwack) was going to be amazing for me, and because he played here he knows what he’s talking about,” Nelson noted. “He’s got a lot of photos from his Chiefs days and even more stories.
“The best piece of advice he’s given me is to keep my head up, no matter what.”
The thing with Clark is that he’s not all about toughness.
Like Hora and Turcotte, he’s got enough untapped skill to become a player who can pop a puck in the net from time to time and add scoring depth.
Here’s head coach Brian Maloney’s assessment.
“He’s surprising us with his hands and his high IQ and he’s making a lot of plays,” the bench boss said. “We’re excited about that, and he’s aware of the things he needs to work on — the footspeed and the pace of this league compared to where he was before.
“It’s early and he’s been in and out of the lineup, but we’re definitely excited to have him here.”
Nelson got his first fight under his belt during a Sept. 16 home game versus Surrey, trading punches with towering Eagles forward Brayden Shaw.
Shaw stands six-foot-four.
Nelson is six-foot-one, but the Chief held his own, impressing the hometown crowd.
“That was the moment that presented what my game’s about,” he recalled. “You can’t be scared going up against a big guy like him. You’ve got to be calm, not go in flailing your arms and just be steady.
“He got a few good shots in and I got a few good shots in. It was good and I thought it was a huge momentum turn in that game (Chilliwack won 4-2, scoring twice after Nelson’s scrap).
— Nelson’s Chiefs visit Coquitlam tonight (Friday) and play home games Saturday against Surrey (7 p.m.) and Sunday against Vernon (2 p.m.).