2010-11 was a bad year for the New Jersey Devils, and for right winger David Clarkson, it was a low point in his young career. In addition to the team missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, he registered just 12 goals and 18 points over the course of the disappointing season, along with a minus-20 rating, a career worst.
There was talk last summer that Clarkson had stepped up his off season training in response to his poor season, and would return to the form he showed in 2008-09, when he scored a career high 17 goals and added 15 assists. Almost half way through the current NHL season, Clarkson’s hard work is paying off, in spades.
After 38 games, on a team that features scorers like Ilya Kovlachuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, Clarkson is leading the team in goals, with 15. It’s a surprising stat to many, because it isn’t as if those players are having poor seasons, Clarkson is just having a great one. In fact, the Devils currently have seven players with at least ten goals on their roster, and when Clarkson registers his next point, New Jersey will have seven players with at least 20 points. It’s been a team effort in Newark, with Clarkson helping lead the way.
While Clarkson’s offensive stats are impressive, they don’t explain his total contribution to the team. He’s a rare player who can score and will also do some of the “dirty work” on the ice. Incredibly, he also leads the team in penalty minutes, often mixing it up with opponents’ heavyweights in between putting the puck in the net.
Clarkson’s emergence as a top scorer inevitably stirs up questions about his penchant for fighting. If he’s becoming more of a scorer, particularly on a team that boasts sluggers like Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton, is it time to transition to becoming more of a skill player, and leave the fisticuffs to the Janssens of the world?
At this point, Clarkson is showing no sign of changing anything. He’s having a career year, and emerging as a genuine scoring threat. It’s a classic “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” scenario, and the Devils are fortunate to have Clarkson’s increased contributions, in any form.