One of the many highlights during the 2011-12 New Jersey Devils season was the outstanding play of David Clarkson. Clarkson had a breakout season in all sense of the word with career highs in goals, assists, power-play points and game-winning goals. Even with such a sensational season to build upon, the jury is still out on whether the 28 year-0ld forward can do it again.
Clarkson (28) joined fellow teammates Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise in reaching the 30-goal mark for the Devils. If you would have asked 10,000 hockey experts before the start of last season which New Jersey players were capable of scoring 30 or more goals, 10,001 of them would have overlooked Clarkson.
Up until this past season, Clarkson showed little goal scoring touch. Instead finding the role of pugilistic mucker and grinder, who occasionally chipped in a goal or two much more to his liking. It wasn’t until the Devils brought in Pete Deboer as head that Clarkson found himself and his scoring touch.
Deboer was Clarkson’s coach for three seasons with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.Even in those days Deboer viewed Clarkson as more of a goal scorer than a grinder and a clutch one at that. “He always scores big goals,” DeBoer said. “For as long as I’ve known him, he scores big goals.”
Under Deboer, the Devils right-winger amassed seven game-winning goals during the regular season with three more in the playoffs. Compare that to the eight combined GWG’s he scored in his first five season in the NHL and it’s easy to see what effect his old coach has had on his game.
In DeBoer’s more offensive-minded system and with his coach encouraging him, Clarkson has not only responded positively but has flourished. “(Deboer) put me in situations to make that happen,” Clarkson said. “Part of it is just maturing in my game, but he has been a big influence in my career.”
The Devils head into next season with more personnel questions than answers, including which Clarkson will show up, the third and fourth line grinder or the goal-scoring hero. One thing is certain though, Clarkson will be heavily relied upon to be the player he was last season as an offensive weapon and as a locker room leader.
Clarkson seemed to work harder under Deboer. He made his own luck. He scored goals off his face, leg, stick and even his rear-end. You name it and he scored with it. Plus, he does so much more than score goals. He value goes beyond just that. Clarkson’s work ethic should be used as an example to the young players in the Devils system (*ahem* Mr. Tedenby). That may be his biggest contribution this season and beyond.
So, to answer my own question, “Can Clarkson score 30 goals again?” Sure he can, but it’s unlikely. I personally think it’s a stretch for David to become a consistent 30-goal scorer; Although, I very much believe he has taken the steps necessary under coach Deboer to be able to contribute 20-25 goals a year. I think based on his body of work prior to last season, that is something we could all live comfortably with.
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