What to Expect: David Clarkson

Crazy eyes Clarkson

Heading into free agency, nearly every Leafs fan knew that Nonis wanted to bring in David Clarkson, considered your prototypical Carlyle guy. Well, I’m sure you all know that Nonis got his man, and at a hefty $5.25 million cap hit for 7 years. There’s been much discussion since the signing about the contract Nonis gave to Clarkson and I don’t particularly want to beat a dead horse. So, without really delving into the subject of whether or not I think he’s worth that money or term, I want to give Leafs fans a look into what Clarkson brings to the table.


The following is a table of Clarkson’s ice-time over the past 4 years:

SeasonES TOI/GPP TOI/GPK TOI/GRank among NJ forwards (ES/PP/PK)


What do these numbers tell us? Well, the first thing to note is that Clarkson is not a guy who sees the ice when his team is down a man. He is, however, a guy that who, over the past two seasons, has seen extensive power play time (I’ll talk about how he did in that time in the next section).  His use in even strength situations has taken big steps forward in each of the past two seasons (+1:21 from 2010-11 to 2011-12 and +0:44 from 2011-12 to 2012-13). Where would his most recent numbers place him on the Leafs squad? His 2012-13 ES TOI/G would have ranked him 5th among forwards behind Nik Kulemin and ahead of Mikhail Grabovski. His PP TOI/G would have him ranked 1st ahead of Phil Kessel by 0:15 and beating second place Tyler Bozak by over 0:30.

When judging the difficulty of Clarkson’s minutes based on his offensive-zone start percentage, it’s understandable that one might think he’s been sheltered: his lowest figure in the past five years is 49.3% in 2010-11. However, he’s been consistently in the back half of the team using that measure. It does not appear that the Devils have forwards that consistently line-up in the defensive end, like our own Jay McClement or Kulemin. The closest they had was David Steckel in 2010-11 and he wasn’t below 40% (in fact he was the only forward lower than Clarkson that year).

The next component of judging the difficulty of a player’s minutes is his quality of competition. Clarkson has faced some pretty easy competition (relative to his teammates) during his time in New Jersey: He finished 10th among forwards (min 10GP) in 2009-10, 11th in 2010-11, 9th in 2011-12 and 12th in 2012-13.

Last up, we need to examine which players Clarkson had for linemates. The following table shows the forwards Clarkson was most commonly paired with over the past few seasons:

SeasonLinemateLinemate TOI %LinemateLinemate TOI %LinemateLinemate TOI %


The 2012-13 season saw Clarkson with consistent line mates in Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias. Prior to that, Clarkson appeared to move around quite a bit, seeing time with such offensive dynamos as Rod Pelley, Ryan Carter and Mattias Tedenby. In fact, over the past four seasons Clarkson has only spent at least 40% of his TOI in a season with a player three times: once in 2009-10 with Rob Niedermayer and with both Elias and Zajac this season.

Let’s take the bigger picture by putting these pieces together: Clarkson’s role at even strength has been strongly trending upwards of late, he isn’t a penalty killer but sees enormous ice-time on the man advantage, his linemates were only stable (and skilled) this past season, and he faced relatively sheltered minutes in New Jersey.


A quick look at Clarkson’s possession numbers show him finishing among forwards (relative to his teammates, so using Corsi Rel) 14th in 2009-10 with a negative number, 10th in 2010-11 with a very small negative, 9th in 2011-12 with a positive number, and 1st this year with a massive positive . It’s worth noting that setting aside his relative position (so switching to Corsi On), Clarkson has been a positive possession player (on ice for more shots for than shots against) each of the past three years.

Now we’ll look at Clarkson’s production statistics. The following table shows Clarkson’s production in ES/60 among New Jersey forwards with a minimum of 10GP:

SeasonG/60A1/60A2/60P/60Rank among NJ forwards (G/A1/A2/P)


To throw in some context regarding Clarkson’s linemates’ production this season, Elias finished 1st in P/60 with 1.84 and Zajac finished 7th with 1.24.  The good news here is that Clarkson can score and that he’s not too terrible reliant on secondary assists in his point totals. The bad news is that he doesn’t appear to be great at distributing the puck and setting up his linemates.

Clarkson’s career SH% is 9.4% but looking at it year-to-year, it’s all over the place. Considering his volatile SH%, it’s interesting to note that Clarkson finished 4th this season in shots on goal (with a SH% of 8.3%), following up last season where he finished 45th (with a SH% of 13.2%). It appears as though he’s determined to score, whether it’s by volume or precision.

Giving Clarkson’s PDO (on-ice SH% + on-ice SV%; a measure of luck among other things) a glance shows that he’s been below 1000 each of the past three seasons, an indication that he may be having some bad luck (or that his natural PDO is in fact lower than 1000). Clarkson’s on-ice SH% was 13th among New Jersey forwards this season (which linemates Zajac and Elias close by), 9th in 2011-12 (despite shooting a 13.2% himself) and 14th during the 2010-11 season. It’s possible that these numbers aren’t helped by Clarkson’s unskilled linemates (prior to this season) and a New Jersey defense that contributed just 29 goals combined over the past two seasons. (Phaneuf has 21 alone).

There’s one last element of Clarkson’s game that I want to look at from a production standpoint, and that’s his power play production.  This past season Clarkson had the highest G/60 with the man advantage (among NJ forwards min. 10GP) and finished with 3rd amongst NJ forwards with PP points.  Last season he finished 6th in power play G/60 and P/60 (amongst NJ forwards min. 10GP).

Overall, what can we say about Clarkson’s production? He’s a positive possession player; he can score goals but doesn’t really set up his linemates; he shoots the puck a lot but his SH% is inconsistent; and he’s pretty good on the power play.


David Clarkson has produced like a top-six forward in three of the past four seasons (and scored like one in all four). At even strength this season Clarkson shot poorly from within 10 ft. but generated 15 shots, while the season prior he scored 6 goals on 28 shots (21.4% SH%); you can expect to see Clarkson mucking it up around the net, likely flanked by Kadri and Lupul. Odds are that line will play some sheltered minutes in terms of quality of competition and o-zone starts if Carlyle can swing it.

It’s also a pretty good bet that Clarkson will continue to see extensive power play time. This past season on the power play, Clarkson scored 4 goals on 11 shots from within 10 ft. The entire Leafs team scored 5 on 20 from within 10 ft. So this season, when the Leafs are on the power play you’ll just need to look to the opposing team’s crease to find Clarkson.

Thanks for sticking around to the end, I know it was long (I prefer thorough) but I really wanted to give Leafs fans an in-depth look at David Clarkson. Love it or hate it, number 71 (Clarkson’s chosen number) is going to be around for a while.

Scoring StatsGoalsAssistsIce Time
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/16/2013.

  • leafscapguru

    Just like JVR I think Clarkson will be best crashing the net and screening the goalie.  Have a feeling we see a career high in points for Clarkson this year, playing with Kardi, and hopefully a healthy Lupul.  I’m a fan of this signing I think he will make Kardi play even better, this has the potential to be a very dangerous line to play against.

  • Jordan29

    All I expect from Clarkson is to hit, score 15-20 goals, and protect Kadri so that Lupul can focus on jus scoring and not trying to be the head basher on that line

  • Burtonboy

    Good write up Taylor. It will be very interesting to see how he does with line mates like Kadri and Lupul. From a purely point production perspective Clarkson is overpaid. However I don’t think he was bought here for that reason. It the intangibles ,the things you can’t stick a #fancystat number on that makes Clarkson worth his contract. A hometown boy who wants to play here ,a heart and sole type of players who will leave it all on the ice every night. A guy who will stick up for his teammates and will bring considerable leadership in that dressing room. Mark my words ,Toronto fans are gonna love this guy .

    • Jordan29

      Burtonboy I didnt realize how good of hands Clarkson had till I watched his goals from the last 2 season though. He may score 20+ with those two.

      • Burtonboy

        Jordan29 Burtonboy He does have good hands and can put the puck in the net. Don’t expect him to put up a massive amount of points . He’s just not that type of player

      • leafscapguru

        Jordan29 Burtonboy I think he will have a lot of tip in’s.  Kadri is the playmaker, Lupul is the sneaker to get that shot off but Clarkson will screen. Love it so pumped to see it all play out!

  • Komas Taberle

    I expect him to scare the hell out of the sens and habs rats and score 20 goals and I will be very happy.

  • Jordan29

    Its going to be a hard top 6 to stop when you think about it. Even with the same season as last year Lupul-Kadri-Clarkson could be our best line, and I expect Kadri to be more consistent this year. Then you add in that JVR-Bozak-Kessel is pretty much guaranteed 180 pts and we should be a high scoring team

  • Jordan29


  • Dink

    Let’s not get too excited now and put too much on his shoulders…
    He will never be able to live up to all the expectations

  • MaxwellHowe

    While I am not a fan of the face punching, I concede the value of Clarkson lies largely in his ability to play effectively with the top 6 while providing an element of protection for his skilled linemates.  There are not many forwards like that.  Last season’s enforcers Orr and McLaren were lost on the 4th line, not around to offer instant protection and reduced to staged fights.  All begs the questions – why did the Leafs resign Orr AND McLaren again?

    • Tommy Cat

      MaxwellHowe Its not just about today but planning your team towards a point you think you should be able to compete for the cup.  Orr and McLaren are just signed for another two years.  By then we should see Biggs and Broll etc in the lineup.  Toughness with more skill and size throughput all lines.

  • B_Leaf

    Thanks for the details. Hard to measure Clarkson’s value with stats. I know that in many games between Toronto and NJ he was the Devil with the most desire to win…working the hardest. He is good in the corners, he is good along the wall, he forces defencemen to rush the puck because they know he can hit and hit hard. He is not really a gifted goal scorer but he is always around the net. He can cycle the puck well when defending the lead. 
    I know he will probably start out with Kadri and Lupul. And it will be interesting to see where that goes. With Carlyle the top nine all play pretty even minutes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Clarkson with Bolland. Kulemin could jump up to play with Kadri and Lupul. 
    Just a quick observation on Kadri. I dont think we will see him play sheltered minutes any more. I thought he played really well on the defensive side of center last year…and he got better as the year went on. The next step for him is improvement on faceoffs.

  • leafscapguru

    personally I don’t think the comparison to Clark is fair to Clarkson. Personally I think Clarkson can be compared to a Gary Roberts type of player more, high energy will go into the corners and bring life back to the team.  I loved watching Gary for that reason if Clarkson just does those little things man this will be great hockey to watch.

    • Tommy Cat

      leafscapguru Clark … Clarkson … its just easy for the media.  They like easy.