If you would have asked 100 different experts which players on the New Jersey Devils0 roster was the most likely to score thirty goals this season, I doubt any of them would have brought up David Clarkson’s name.
Clarkson’s game-winning goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night was in fact his 30th of the season. The goal also clinched a playoff spot for the Devils, who failed to qualify last year for the first time in 13 seasons.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet, I don’t think,” said Clarkson, “If I told you I thought last summer that it would happen, I’d be lying. I’ve had a lot of great linemates. Getting the win and clinching is the big part, but to be able to do that is good. I said I never thought I would play in the NHL. To score 30 goals means quite a bit.”
The 28-year-old Ontario native, whose previous career high in goals was 17, is having a career year and is one of the biggest reasons the Devils have been able to turn things around so quickly.
Clarkson finished the 2010-11 season having played all 82 games, but collected a mere 20 points (12g 8a) and a minus-20. His shooting percentage of .063 was so poor even Anton Volchenkov cringed at it.
A year after the worst statistical season of his career, Clarkson found himself on the short list of players fans wanted exiled out of Newark. But, a change in coaches and team philosophy, which included the implementation of a new system, resurrected his fading career.
Through 79 games this season, Clarkson has career highs in goals, power play goals, power play assists and game-winning goals. His 15 assists ties his career high in that category as well. His seven game-winning goals leads the team and his eight power play goals are second only to Ilya Kovalchuk. Not bad for a guy most dubbed as a fourth-line goon.
The biggest difference from this season to prior years is the amount of playing time he’s been given and the situations he is being utilized in.
With Travis Zajac out for the most of the season while recovering from off-season Achilles surgery, Clarkson was moved up front on the power play. He’s made the most of his opportunity cashing in on the man advantage with regularity. As the season progressed so did his confidence.
First-year head coach Pete Deboer was very familiar with Clarkson, having coached him in juniors, he still believes his rugged winger has more to offer his team than just goals.
“In today’s day and age, to score 30 goals in this league is not an easy thing to do,” said Deboer. “It puts him in an elite company and the nice thing about him is it’s not even the best of his game. The best part of his game for me is his physical play and the way he agitates and how hard he is on the puck and in the corners. So, if you have a guy like that that can also put 30 goals on the board, it’s a nice bonus.”
Whatever the magic formula was used to turn Clarkson around – it worked. He possess may of the said attributes former-Devils captain Jaime Langenbrunner had when he first joined the team in 2002. He can play physical and he can score goals, big goals.
What I’ve seen from Clarkson this season is a player that is strong on his feet, he fights for every inch of the ice and is an integral part of the cycle down low. He’s been smarter with his shot selection. He has consistently put himself in position to deflect the puck or bang home a rebound. He’s also been very lucky at times, I mean the guy has scored a goal with his butt. That says a lot about the type of season he’s having. Sometimes when you’re playing well, you create you’re own luck and he’s done plenty of that.
Watch for Clarkson to play an even bigger role when the playoffs start. In a seven game series, the team that wears down their opponent faster usually wins. If Clarkson can keep up his offensive game, while maintaining his physical edge, then it’s possible the Devils could be in for a long Stanley Cup run.
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