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Plenty of pros to Clark’s game

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / September 20, 2011

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Chris Clark has been a professional hockey player for 13 years. In 1998, when Clark turned pro, fellow Bruins camper Alexander Khokhlachev had just turned five years old.

As such, training camp is nothing new for the 35-year-old Clark. Except that this year, for the first time in his career, the native of South Windsor, Conn., is entering camp without the safety net of a contract.

“I still go about camp the same way I always do, trying to get ready for the season,’’ Clark said. “Not having a contract, I’m a little more conscious of everything I can do and replaying little mistakes.’’

The former Clarkson standout, who played college hockey alongside future NHLers such as Todd White, Erik Cole, and Willie Mitchell, is the type of player every coach likes. Through stops in Calgary, Washington, and Columbus, Clark has rounded out an identity that’s allowed him to stay in the NHL for 607 games - a number he’s looking to extend in Boston.

The right-shot wing’s best year was in 2006-07, when he scored 30 goals and had 24 assists for the Capitals.

But Clark is better known for his grinding, hockey sense, and leadership than his offensive punch.

During his most recent seasons, the north-south Clark has been seeing heavy rotations on the penalty kill. Last year in Columbus, of the 14:38 of ice time he averaged per game, 1:59 was on the PK. Clark ranked second among Columbus forwards in shorthanded ice time per game, trailing only ex-Bruin Sami Pahlsson (2:50). If he earns a job in Boston, Clark would most likely have PK duty.

“Whenever we played against him, I found him to be a hard player to play against,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien, who recalled coaching against Clark when he was skating for St. John in the AHL during the late 1990s. “You’re talking about a guy who comes to play hard every night. He’s certainly one of those players.’’

Clark was Calgary’s third-round pick in 1994. Clark played on the 2003-04 Flames club that lost to Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup Final. If Clark makes the Bruins roster, he would become the seventh Flame from that club to wear Black and Gold under general manager Peter Chiarelli’s watch. The others are Andrew Ference, Chuck Kobasew, Stephane Yelle, Steve Montador, Dany Sabourin, and Shean Donovan.

Clark served as the captain in Washington, watching over a roster that included some of the most talented youngsters in the league: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin.

“I don’t know if it was something about my personality or the way I play on the ice,’’ Clark said of his captaincy. “Maybe a combination of both.’’

Clark wore the “C’’ because of a demeanor that Julien compares with that of Patrice Bergeron. Around the league, the lead-by-example Clark is known for his professional approach.

“When he comes to the rink, he’s all business,’’ Julien said. “Great guy. He’s obviously well-respected by his teammates, having been a captain in the places he’s been. From getting to know him a little bit more, you can see why. That’s why he reminds me of Bergy a little bit, a guy who you can have fun with and is a good teammate. He enjoys coming to the rink. But when he’s on the ice, he’s all about business.

“I’m very interested in seeing what he’s going to be able to show us in these preseason games and see if he can’t earn himself a spot here.’’

Clark is over the wrist, knee, and groin injuries that have eaten away at his durability over the last few seasons. But as he found out the hard way, even the healthiest of players 35 and older can be hard-pressed to land employment.

Clark, who is represented by local agents Mark Witkin and Peter Fish, didn’t get any contract offers this summer. It became clear he would have to try out if he hoped to continue playing in the NHL.

Upon Mark Recchi’s retirement, Clark assumed the Bruins might be seeking a veteran voice. Then on July 1, Michael Ryder, who played most of his time in Boston on the right side, signed with Dallas. With two right wings out of the picture, Clark figured the Bruins’ tryout invitation - he had several other invites - would be his best opportunity.

“Being a captain in Washington, I knew I could come in with those leadership qualities off the ice and on the ice,’’ said Clark. “If that was something they were looking for, I thought this would be a good fit.’’

During the first days of camp, Clark has been the right wing alongside fellow grinders Chris Kelly and Jordan Caron. If Clark hopes to land a contract - it would most certainly be a one-year deal near the league minimum - his best opportunity would be as a third-line wing. Caron and Jamie Arniel are among the bottom-six grinders Clark will be competing against.

“When you look back at his career, I don’t think anybody’s going to argue the fact that he’s got some Bruin qualities in him,’’ Julien said. “He might be a good fit for us.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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