Even with the success of the 2022-23 New Jersey Devils, the team still has a wealth of prospects who could contribute to the team, both in the immediate and not so far off future. That’s not always the case for a team that is already in the thick of the competitive teams in the NHL, meaning the Devils could be set up to remain in the chase for the Stanley Cup for years to come. When a team is in this position though, some prospects either find themselves traded to help teams acquire a “win now” piece or go to another team (via playing out their restricted free agent years or not being tendered a qualifying offer) to get games at the highest level. With a lot of the Devils NHL minutes already seemingly allocated for the upcoming season, I started to wonder if this could be the case for prospect Graeme Clarke.
Clarke completed his third pro season in 2022-23, with all of them so far being spent with the Devils’ AHL affiliate. His rookie season, which was with the Binghamton Devils, saw him appear in 31 games due to the abbreviated season in 2020-21, scoring eight goals and adding 10 assists for 18 points or .58 points per game. With the team moving to Utica, Clarke’s sophomore season saw both a bit of growth and a bit of a slump as his totals increased to 10 goals and 14 assists, but his ppg dipped to .46, as he appeared in 52 games. This past season saw him play in 68 games, and explode for 25 goals and 33 assists, upping his ppg to .85. Now AHL success does not always translate to NHL success, but at just 22, it should mean at least a chance for Clarke.
He almost had said chance last season, as he was called up from Utica at the end of February, but was returned just a day later. As it was around the trade deadline, this could have been a cap move, or a reward for Clarke to be up with the big team, or even perhaps as an insurance policy in case others were traded and/or couldn’t appear in the next game. Clarke, along with several others at the end of Utica’s postseason, would also all be recalled by the Devils during their playoff run, with none of those players appearing in a game.
As many seem to have both Alexander Holtz and Nolan Foote ahead of Clarke with training camp roughly a month away, it does beg the question as to whether or not Graeme will get an NHL shot with the Devils. Maybe staff (and fans) see him as the “first guy up” if an injury occurs. Perhaps the team thinks he’s the type of player that can only succeed with Top-6 minutes, and as those positions seem to be full going into 2023-24, they may want him getting one more season of big minutes in the AHL before bringing him to the big club. They may also see more value in him as a trade chip; again, the team has a lot of their forward slots accounted for, while other positions (read: goaltending) could still stand to be upgraded. While it may not be possible to pull off said trade now, it doesn’t mean that the Devils don’t make one in season, and they might want Clarke getting big AHL minutes to showcase his skills.
A lot of this is hypothetical, and as we’re still in August, everything written here could wind up being completely wrong. For all I know, or for all any of us know, Clarke could outplay Holtz, Foote or any other forwards competing for a roster spot and find himself on the opening night roster. The Devils could determine that their roster opening is on the third line and Clarke’s skills fit better there than any of the other players battling for an NHL role. His stock has certainly risen with his AHL performance last season. Another interesting point is that even if he doesn’t make it, Clarke will be a restricted free agent without arbitration rights prior to next summer; as long as the Devils see something with him and qualify him, they still have at least a few years of team control left.
From my point of view, it will be either this season or next that Graeme Clarke finds an NHL role, and I do think it will be with the Devils. I think if the Devils dip into their prospect pool in a trade, it’ll be a defender moving, as they are deeper in that area currently in my opinion. Clarke is a right shooting right wing, which the Devils do not have a lot of, and he could be useful to pair with one of the team’s left handed centers, particularly if management doesn’t see Holtz as a fit, or if Clarke outplays him. There could also be another right wing slot open next season for one of the aforementioned pair if Tyler Toffoli decides not to stick around. Again, I do think there will be a spot in New Jersey for Clarke, it’s all just a matter of when.
What do you think about Graeme Clarke’s chances of finding a roster spot in New Jersey; do you think he is currently in the team’s long-term plans? Do you see him as more of a fill-in and/or trade chip? Is it possible in your eyes that he outplays Holtz and/or Foote and makes the opening night roster this season? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!