Bobby Clarke played his junior hockey for his hometown team, the Flin Flon Bombers. He developed a strong reputation in Flin Flon as a noteworthy prospect, leading the league in scoring three straight years. Though his numbers were something to marvel at, questions surrounding Clarke’s health gave NHL teams some worries. As a child, doctors diagnosed Clarke with type 1 diabetes, and many people felt his condition would prevent him from playing in the NHL. To keep Clarke’s draft hopes alive, Bombers coach, Pat Ginnell, took him to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Doctors concluded that Clarke could play professional hockey as long as he took care of himself.
With the assurances now in place that Clarke was healthy enough to play in the NHL, his success in junior hockey made him worthy of a first-round selection in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft. Unfortunately for Clarke, it did not work out that way.
Flyers Select Bobby Clarke 17-overall in 1969 NHL Amateur Draft
Clarke’s slip into the second round was a pleasant surprise for the Flyers. Philadelphia scout, Gerry Melnyk, attempted to convince General Manager, Bud Poile, to take Clarke in the first round but failed. Poile decided to go with drafting Bob Currier in round one. Melnyk’s constant praise of Clarke paid off, and Poile drafted him with the 17th-overall pick. Other teams were hoping Clarke would continue to slide. Both the Red Wings and Canadiens offered trades for the young center. Fortunately, Poile refused both.
Clarke made his NHL debut on October 11, 1969, against the Minnesota North Stars and recorded his first point, an assist, 11 days after against Toronto. His first NHL goal would come nine days after that on October 30th, against the Rangers. All-in-all, Clarke produced a respectable rookie campaign, recording 46 points in 76 games, and finishing fourth in votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy. His play continued to progress the following season, leading Philadelphia in points with 63. His efforts helped the Flyers reach the postseason, but Chicago quickly eliminated them.
After a slow start to the 1971-72 season, Clarke bounced back, recording 30 goals and 35 assists in the final 47 games. His perseverance that year resulted in him becoming the first member of the Flyers to be awarded a major NHL award, winning the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy. Philadelphia then re-signed him to a five-year contract.
At the age of 23, the Flyers named Clarke team captain, making him the youngest captain in NHL history at the time. Clarke assured Philadelphia this was the right move as he then became the first member of an expansion team to score over 100 points in a season. The good times continued to roll for Clarke and the Flyers in 1972-73, as the team won its first playoff series against the North Stars. Montreal eliminated Philadelphia in the next round, but the NHL awarded Clarke the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s MVP. Additionally, the NHL players awarded him the Lester B. Pearson Award as the league’s most outstanding player.
After winning the Hart Memorial Trophy, there was only more thing left for Clarke to do, bring a Stanley Cup to Philadelphia. Fortunately, that dream became a reality the following year. Clarke’s production declined to 87 points that year, but Philadelphia recorded the league’s second-best record. The Flyers made their first Stanley Cup Final against the Bruins. They defeated Boston in six games and became the first expansion team to win a Stanley Cup.
The following season, 1974-75, Clarke set the record for most assists by a center with 89 and posted a whopping 116 points. The Flyers won their second-straight Stanley Cup, this time against the Sabres. Additionally, Clarke won his second Hart Memorial Trophy.
When his career finally came to an end after the 1983-84 season, Clarke played 1,144 games with the Flyers, recording 358 goals and 852 assists. To this day, he is still the Flyers all-time leader in games played, assists, and points. Clarke’s number 16 sweater is one of six that hangs over the ice at the Wells Fargo Center.
Draft Grade: A+
When it comes to Flyers hockey, there is nobody more iconic than Bobby Clarke. He is the franchise’s most excellent draft pick, captain, and player. The craziest thing about Clarke’s draft story is he could have wound up somewhere else. He indeed was a prospect worthy of a first-round selection. It blows my mind that every team, including the Flyers, passed on him. There were also three teams ahead of the Flyers in the second round that could have scooped Clarke up. Luckily for the city of Philadelphia, that did not happen.