Clay Stevenson '24 signs with Washington Capitals

The goaltender inked a two-year deal and will begin his career with the team’s AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears.

by Heath Monsma | 4/4/22 2:10am

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Source: Courtesy of Clay Stevenson

The Washington Capitals have signed hockey goaltender Clay Stevenson ’24 to a two-year entry-level contract beginning next year, the team announced on March 28. In the meantime, Stevenson will finish the spring term remotely to travel to Pennsylvania and play for the team’s American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears on an amateur tryout agreement until his contract takes effect. 

Turning 23 years old this March, Stevenson missed the cutoff to be drafted — North American players must be under 20 to participate in the drafting process — but joined the ranks of late-blooming college free agents looking to make an impact at the professional level. It wasn’t until his breakout 2019-2020 season with the Coquitlam Express of the British Columbia Hockey League that Stevenson said he began to believe he could make the NHL. That season, he led the league with a .936 save percentage and 1.77 goals-against average. He was also named a First Team All-Star and top goaltender. 

“I think the biggest change that year was my mental maturity,” Stevenson said of his stint with the BCHL. “I was a lot more confident in myself day-to-day and I started to take the games one at a time instead of worrying about the bigger picture.” 

However, once he reached Hanover, Stevenson encountered two major setbacks. The first was that the staff that recruited him was turned over after the retirement of men’s hockey head coach Bob Gaudet ’81 — the second being the cancellation of Steven’s freshman season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid all of the uncertainty, Stevenson decided to stick with the team and develop a relationship with his new goaltending coach and associate head coach Jason Tapp. 

“My conversation with Clay when we first met was, ‘My job is to make you a good college goalie, but my ultimate goal is to make you an elite NHL goalie,’” Tapp said. “That's what we're always trying to build towards.”

Despite not having games to play in 2020, Stevenson said that he dedicated himself to maximizing his own development for the following season. 

“The [COVID-19] year was a challenge just because of all the rules, we couldn’t work on things like screens and tips, but Clay’s work ethic is at the top of our team,” Tapp said. “He was diligent, never missed goalie ices and we watched video every Monday night for an hour or two.” 

Stevenson’s teammate and backup goalie Troy Burkhart ’23 echoed Tapp’s sentiments about his elite mentality.

“His mindset going into every drill seemed to be that he was going to stop every single puck, no matter what,” Burkhart said. “By going 110% he also caused his teammates to improve alongside him.”

Stevenson never lacked for talent, Burkhart said. Standing at 6’4, he has an explosive quickness between the pipes that makes scouts drool.

“He can get from one side of the net to the other in an instant and he is able to anticipate where the puck is going on any pass or shot,” Burkhart said. “He has a special combination of great predictions and great athleticism.”

Honing that raw ability was Tapp’s goal with Stevenson over the course of his first season, Tapp said.

“When [Stevenson] first got here, every save he made was an athletic save or a split save, so he’d never leave himself in position to make two and three saves in a row,” Tapp said. “We spent pretty much the entire COVID year working on making sure he didn’t lose the net and just calming him down.” 

When the 2021-2022 season did finally roll around, Stevenson was a massive asset and a bright spot in an otherwise underwhelming Big Green season. He finished with an overall save percentage of .922, made 709 saves and posted two shutouts. 

One of those shutout performances was a 37-save masterclass against Yale University that earned him Eastern College Athletic Conference Goalie of the Week honors. In addition, Stevenson was named a finalist for the ECAC Hockey Ken Dryden Goaltender of the Year Award, named to the All-ECAC Hockey third team and rookie team and was also an All-Ivy League first-team selection.

“He was a big piece of the team. He kept us in a lot of games and helped us win some,” Tapp said. “He's a calming influence on the group because when his teammates trust him back there it allows everyone to play a little freer.” 

It was in late December of this sophomore season that NHL teams began to take notice of Stevenson: in addition to the Capitols, the Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Seattle Kraken and the New York Rangers also reached out, Stevenson said

“The biggest factor in my decision-making was where I had the most opportunity to develop,” Stevenson said. “I ultimately made the decision to go to Washington because their track record shows that they build within their organization.” 

While Stevenson will face steep competition to find a spot on the Capitals roster, he will be aided by the fact that Washington’s two starters will be free agents, one unrestricted and the other restricted, following the conclusion of this season that and their fourth-stringer will be an unrestricted free agent as well. 

Even with such a favorable path, Stevenson said his choice to leave Dartmouth weighed heavily. 

“It was a hard decision to leave college because I’ve formed really good camaraderie with my teammates,” Stevenson said. “Even over just the past two years I’ve made relationships I won't ever forget.” 

Dartmouth may be in Stevenson’s rearview mirror for the moment, but he said he doesn’t believe his time with the College is over.

“I've had talks with my dad and my sisters and they all think it's the right choice for me to pursue this dream of mine because not everyone gets the opportunity to sign an NHL contract,” he said. “But once I'm done with hockey, I'm definitely going to try to get my Dartmouth degree.” 

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