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What Should Devils Fans Expect: David Clarkson

One of the most interesting players to watch out for in 2009-10 will be David Clarkson.  Long time readers know that I really like Clarkson.  He's not just gritty, but he just exudes the confidence to attempt skill-moves like the wraparound (a.k.a. The Clarkaround) and toe drags.  He's not just a man who drops the gloves, but he contributes on the scoresheet as well.  Basically, I think he's Randy McKay Ver. 2.0.  I said as such back in November and after 2008-09, I feel confident in that statement.

Last season was Clarkson's fourth in professional hockey and his second full season with the New Jersey Devils.  After his rookie season, where he put up 9 goals and 12 assists from the bottom two lines; Clarkson improved his production by 8 goals and 2 assists while remaining on the bottom two lines.  That's a very nice improvement; which is more impressive when you consider his situation in 2008-09.

In short, Clarkson was shuffled between the third and fourth lines, which were also shuffled around, throughout 2008-09.  Some nights, he's got John Madden at center with Brian Rolston or Jay Pandolfo or Brendan Shanahan on his opposite wing. Other nights, he's on the fourth line, banging away with the likes of Bobby Holik, Mike Rupp, or Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond.  And in between, a mash up of all those forward (Clarkson-Holik-Rolston. Seriously.)  As a result, he averaged only 12:05 of ice time per game.  Amazingly enough, despite the low ice time average and a constant shifting of linemates (especially to the non-offensive ones), he managed to score more than he did in his first season.  Logic would suggest that with more ice time, Clarkson can do much more.  In fact, Lou brought that up himself when Rich Chere asked about the Devils' plans on July 1.

"It will be status quo to see where our budget is," Lamoriello revealed. "We have to make room for Rod Pelley and a couple of others. And we have to get more ice time for David Clarkson."

Lou clearly likes Clarkson, too.  I would take this statement to mean that we should expect quite a bit from Clarkson next season.  After all, why openly say a player has to be given more ice time if you don't expect him to perform?

2008 - David Clarkson 82 17 15 32 -1 164 4 0 3 0 158 10.8


Now, going back to Lou's quote, Clarkson himself can actually help himself get more ice time.  This may not be a very popular suggestion, but Clarkson can simply be better disciplined on the ice, not fight so much, and he'll have more ice time.   Clarkson led the Devils in penalty minutes last season and, according to Hockeyfights, fighting majors with 20.  I know grit and physical play is a part of Clarkson's game and his appeal.   I think he's a great hitter, he officially had 134 of them last season, and I have no issue if he wants to do more.  I know he goes to the net, and I encourage that he keeps getting into traffic. I understand that will mean penalties will follow.  But no one says he has to fight and then sit out for 5 minutes; or that Clarkson has to take a cheap minor for one reason or another.

I'm almost certain Clarkson will definitely fight a few times next season and so forth in his career.  Does he really have to do it 20 times? (20. Seriously.)  Especially now that the the Devils (could) have other "enforcers" on the roster for that sort of thing, Clarkson should be encouraged to focus on other matters on the ice.  With 17 goals and 32 points while averaging just over 12 minutes last season, it's clear that he's far more than just a pair of fists.  

I'd also like to see Clarkson cutting down on minor penalties - especially stupid ones like hooks, holds, etc.  He did improve over his rookie season in that regard, going from 34 to 26 minors; but I'd like to see that get lower.  I'm emphasizing the discipline issue first because Clarkson's skillset is so much more effective when he's not sitting in a penalty box. He'll get more shifts and ice time from line rotation alone just by not sitting out for 5 minutes at a time on a fighting major.  I expect that Clarkson will do just that in 2009-10.

In addition to expecting him to take fewer penalty minutes, I'm also expecting better defense from Clarkson.  Now that the Devils are without John Madden and now that we may not be able to see Jay Pandolfo as an elite checker anymore, the Devils will definitely need other forwards to step up on the backchecking front.  According to Behind the Net's even strength stats, the goals against and shots against per 60 minutes when he's on the ice was higher than when he's not on the ice last season.  In terms of goals against per 60 minutes, it's not so bad - an increase from 2.04 to 2.09.  But shots against per 60 minutes did go up from 26.3 to 28.0.   Does this mean that Clarkson a bad defensive player? No.  But he can and should improve to help a potential massive defensive-forward void left by John Madden.  It's not as an obvious area of improvement as his penalties/discipline, but it is another place where he can - and so I expect him - to get better.

Now, currently, I can't really predict who Clarkson's linemates will be and that could be a big issue in preventing Clarkson from soaring next season.   Clarkson did a great job improving his production and his game despite shifting lines and linemates.  While Lou said he wants Clarkson to get more ice time, it will be up to Jacques Lemaire to figure that out.  However, with uncertainty among the bottom two lines - will Jay Pandolfo get his groove back and return to the third line; will the Devils make a trade for another center and so it may/may not be Rod Pelley at center; how much can we expect out of Pelley; will Leblond and Pikkarainen be on the fourth line and either way who is centering it; etc. - who's to say where Clarkson will end up.  You can turn that around and suggest that with all the uncertainty, it's a perfect opportunity for Clarkson to show the Devils that he can be a constant contributor on the bottom six.   Regardless, it's up in the air and likely won't even be close to be resolved until the season starts.  Lemaire should and may  already recognize Clarkson's offensive and overall potential, but he could easily end up shifting around in 2009-10 due to roster needs - dashing any benefit from chemistry among consistent linemates.  

That all said, I really do expect Clarkson to continue improving as a player.  I'm sure in time, he'll know when to use the Clarkaround, toe drags, and other flair moves so they will be more effective.  Even if he doesn't, I don't expect him to not use them.  Anyway.  I think that if he repeated last season's production it wouldn't be disappointing, depending how he's used.  Since I hope and expect Clarkson to cut down on his penalties in minutes and improve his defense, I think Lemaire will be forced to give him more ice time based on his performances alone. I would think that if Lemaire can utilize Clarkson for 14-15 minutes a night, then that alone should see his point totals rise.  

According to HockeyDB, it took Randy McKay 10 full seasons of pro hockey before he exceeding 20 goals and 40 points (24 goals, 48 points in 1996-97).   I honestly think that Clarkson can raise his game to do that next season - his fifth in pro hockey.  Given what I've stated so far, I expect Clarkson to finish with about 20 goals and 40 points in 2009-10.

Now it's time to have your say.  Maybe you think I'm too confident in Clarkson and so we should scale back our expectations.  Maybe you're like me and think Clarkson can have a great season.  Maybe you're in the middle. Either way, let's discuss what you expect out of David Clarkson in 2009-10.