Tonight, David Clarkson will make his debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Many in Leafs Nation are excited about the prospect of a power forward like Clarkson entering the lineup. Rightly so: he hits, he fights, he cycles and he can put the puck in the net.
Despite the aforementioned accolades, the most valuable contribution Clarkson will make to this team is simple: his unrelenting desire to win as a Maple Leaf. A longtime fan of his native Ontario team, Clarkson turned down a better offer from the Edmonton Oilers to make Toronto his (likely) final destination in the NHL. Yet even with the New Jersey Devils, the most reliable aspect of his game was the fire and determination he brought to the ice on a nightly basis.
Make no mistake, Clarkson is no offensive dynamo. Those expecting a surge in his career point-pace will be disappointed (although a slight increase is possible given the potential for better linemates, ice time, and a more offensive system than he ever experienced in New Jersey). There will be times where he will look awkward on the ice or a step behind the ethereal skills of linemates such as Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri. But David Clarkson will never be faulted for his effort. He will add a needed dimension of grittiness and puck possession to this team’s top nine.
Most importantly, he elevates his game when his team needs him the most. He brings a style of leadership-by-example that will hopefully serve to rally his talented teammates with a surprisingly multifaceted approach. Most fans are aware that he will throw his body with abandon and drop the gloves to protect his teammates. Yet an underrated aspect of Clarkson’s game is his ability to elevate his offensive output in dire situations to an unparalleled level:
AVG Shots/60 when trailing by one goal
Yes, you’re reading that right. Over the last three seasons, no player has directed as much rubber at the net as Clarkson has when their team is down by a goal. The only player even close to him in this regards is Justin Williams (he of the clutch game seven performances for the vaunted L.A. Kings). Clarkson places well ahead of noted offensive motors such as Alexander Ovechkin, Evander Kane and Henrik Zetterberg. Moreover, Clarkson’s consistency in this respect has also been second-to-none. He has been in the top five league-wide in this simple measurement of situational shot output for each of the last three seasons.
What does that mean for the Leafs? It means that Clarkson may not hit the scoresheet on those nights that the Phil Kessels or Joffrey Lupuls blow open the barn doors early in the game with high-percentage shooting off the rush. On those nights where Toronto has taken the early lead you will probably see Clarkson focusing on keeping the puck in the offensive zone, finishing his checks, and irritating the crap out of the opposition.
But, in those games where the Leafs fall behind and the many skilled forwards this team possesses are looking for that spark to get them going – Clarkson will be leading the way. You can be virtually guaranteed that he will be throwing everything and the kitchen sink in the direction of the other team’s net alongside his usual antics. The goals that he will get may not always be pretty, but hopefully they will come when the team needs them most.
Welcome to the Maple Leafs, David Clarkson.