With the Devils on a bit of a break, I want to discuss a player who I feel is more than just an energy player. David Clarkson, I think, has the potential to be someone we would be glad to be a Devil for a rather long time. Just like another former gritty winger who showed that he's more than a tough guy who grows some wicked facial hair in the postseason.
From 1994 on, the Devils have always had a gritty forward who's able to pot in some offense, provide some defense, and be generally tough all around. For many years, this player was Randy McKay. He started in New Jersey compiling penalty minutes like Chico Resch consumes hot dogs, and became well known for his spot on the Crash Line. But he showed flashes of offense to go with the grit. Most notably early on in his Devils tenure, his 8 goals in the 1995 Stanley Cup run. Yeah, that surprised me too when I saw that. As his time in New Jersey went on, McKay learned to play smarter, take fewer penalty minutes, and managed to hone his offensive game. Take a look at his career numbers at Hockey DB; McKay was no "goon." He actually came close to putting up 25 goals twice, not bad for a guy who your first thought may be, "Please may him light a poor sucker up by the bench." He developed as a more well rounded player to complement his toughness.
After Randy McKay, there were a few that had that same role: Turner Stevenson and Grant Marshall, namely the tougher guys tending to line up with Jay Pandolfo and John Madden. Neither were as nearly productive with the Devils, but they served their purposes in the defensive end. Marshall, in particular, made NJ his last stop but memorably put up 6 big goals in their 2003 Cup run. Never the less, they kept opponents honest and a little sore on a regular basis and they served their use. But in 2006-2007, as Marshall went down to Lowell, the Devils didn't have anyone that fit this role. Erik Rasmussen and Mike Rupp weren't pushovers, but they were clearly suited for the fourth line - not really the third.
Enter: David Clarkson. In a 7 game call up with the Devils, I noted back on my old blog in March 2007 that he reminded me of a young Randy McKay. 3 goals, 1 assist, but only 6 penalty minutes. In retrospect, it was more of an older, wiser, and more productive McKay. The following season, Clarkson would show he had some of that younger McKay with 9 goals, 13 assists, and a whopping 183 penalty minutes. Quite a lot of fights, he had in 2007-2008. But he started to show some, well, flair. And he's been using it quite more this season to some effect.
While some sites like IPB may decry the Clarkaround, Clarkson has become the one Devil would use it if he had the opportunity. He also has shown in games his willingness to use a toe drag, or move the puck ahead and side-step his defender. Clarkson's not afraid to blast it either, be it a slapshot or a one-timer. My point is that he does moves you'd expect from someone like Patrik Elias or Zach Parise to bust out on offense. Because they come from David Clarkson, he's not just showing off moves - he's showing that he is confident with the puck, he's willing to go for glory, and that he's got offensive moves. And defenders would be unwise to let David Clarkson get away with them lest they get burned. It's these skills that sticks him apart from McKay, Stevenson, Marshall, et. al.
What also makes Clarkson different is that he's not just someone aggressive in physical play or providing energy, but he can take it opponents in the offensive zone. I mean, he followed up a 7 shot performance against Washington with 3 shots and 9 hits against Florida. And while he's been quieter in those departments in the following two games: he picked up points in both (a one-timer goal against the Islanders, an assist on Mike Rupp's deflection - feeding Anssi Salmela while drawing a defender enough to give Salmela the time he needed with the puck) to continue a four point streak. He's on pace to set new career highs in goals and points as things stand, and I honestly think the best is yet to come. I doubt he hits a sophmore slump if he continues hustling and enjoying his hockey like he is now.
|2008 - David Clarkson||20||5||3||8||0||33||1||0||0||0||44||11.4|
OK, so you won't confuse him with Parise; but that's prety good. And so in his second full NHL season, what we have here is a player who could develop into a more skilled version of Randy McKay. Devils fans, I cannot be the only one excited by this idea, can I? Power and finesse; energy and heart; and a guy who could fit well in spot duty up on the top two lines and a versatile threat on the bottom two. He's not perfect; he could stand to work on his defense more if the Behind the Net numbers say anything. But he's on the Devils, he'll learn defense like everyone else in due time.
Overall, I certainly hope that he continues to develop his overall game, he could be a long standing Devil hero like McKay - it wouldn't surprise me if he becomes better than McKay. Of particular note are his toe-drags, wraparounds, etc.: David, please don't ever lose those moves. Working on the timing and general use with those flair moves because will only add extra dimensions to his game and make him an even bigger threat to the opposition.
Keep working hard, David, and don't be afraid to be great. You certainly have the potential.