Former Devil David Clarkson: Where is He Now?

*This archive was originally written by Kristy Flannery

When I first came up with the idea for this segment there was one player who came to mind and that was David Clarkson. The problem was after his retirement the Toronto native stepped into the shadows and shied away from both media and the NHL. I spent time searching for updates but never found enough information to provide my readers with a true update on what our favorite player has been up to. That all changed thanks to Matt Loughlin.

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Thanks to his relationship with the longtime Devils radio play-by-play announcer and voice of the New Jersey Devils, Clarkson appeared on an episode of Speak of the Devils and discussed an array of topics including the Devils trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 and his mental health journey after retirement.

There is no denying that Clarkson was and remains a fan favorite in New Jersey. During his tenure with the Devils, he won fans over with his style of play and willingness to build relationships with the fans.

David Clarkson Fan Signs
David Clarkson Fan Signs (Image provided by Diane Kuhn)

“David Clarkson was truly a unique player,” said longtime fan Diane Kuhn. “Although he wasn’t a superstar on the ice, he was easily a favorite among Devils fans. When he came back to Prudential Center as a Maple Leaf there were welcome signs for him halfway around the arena. I don’t think I have ever seen a larger reception for a former player.”

His Time with the Devils

Clarkson suited up for his first game with the Devils during the 2006-07 campaign. He scored his first goal against the Carolina Hurricanes in his second career game. He was known for his physical play and had a similar style to Cam Janssen and Mike Rupp. During the interview, he said there was always a reason to fight, and he never did it for fun. He would drop the gloves with the intent to change the momentum of the game or defend one of his teammates. Most fans remember his battles with Sean Avery during his time with the New York Rangers.

Towards the end of his time in New Jersey, he found his scoring touch, and in the 2011-12 season, he put up 46 points, a career-high for the forward. During his chat with Laughlin and Sam Kasan, he made it a point to mention that he played with great players and both Patrik Elias and Zach Parise made him look better than he actually was.

David Clarkson Devils
David Clarkson celebrates a goal against the New York Rangers. (Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE)

“My linemates, whether it’s Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, or Patrik Elias, I wouldn’t be having the success I’ve had without them,” said Clarkson back in 2013. “They are great players. You can always count on them.”

After seven seasons and 426 games, Clarkson became a free agent. The 6-foot winger was playing some of his best hockey and built a reputation as a player who was not afraid to stand up for his teammates. While a few teams were interested, he knew in his heart there was one team that stood out above the rest.

Moving on From New Jersey and a Forced Retirement

Before John Tavares left a Metropolitan Division team to go home to Toronto there was Clarkson. On July 5, 2013, the then 29-year-old signed a seven-year, $36.75 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“As it was getting down to the end there were three or four (teams) where I was kicking back and forth,” Clarkson said at the time. “At the end of the day, I think in my heart this is where I wanted to be. It’s an honor to be here. I wore that jersey as a kid. I was a big Leafs’ fan when I was little so it’ll be pretty special to put it on.”

His time in Toronto began with a suspension as he left the bench to join an altercation during a preseason game. In his first season with the Maple Leafs, he appeared in 60 games putting up 11 points (5G, 6A). In his next season, he scored 10 goals and finished the season with 15 points.

In Feb. 2015, it appeared both the Maple Leafs and Clarkson needed a change. The forward was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Nathan Horton.

Related: Doomed from the Start: David Clarkson’s Time in Toronto

“Sometimes players, for whatever reason, don’t fit in a certain city or with a certain organization,” Toronto general manager Dave Nonis said. “I believe in David. I believe he’ll go there and play well. I think he’ll fit in with their group and have the impact there that we had hoped he would have had here.”

The last time he suited up for a game with the Blue Jackets was during the 2015-16 campaign. He played in 23 games and put up four points. Injuries began to mount for Clarkson and prior to the 2016-17 season, the organization announced he had failed a physical and would not be invited to practice with the team. Columbus placed him on long-term injured reserve causing Clarkson to unofficially retire from playing professionally.

Finding Purpose in Retirement

Various players have discussed the difficulty of transitioning from the NHL to retirement. It takes a mental toll as the players’ routine is gone. Clarkson admitted to Loughlin and Kasan that he struggled.

“Mentally the only thing you know was taken away,” he said on the podcast. “I didn’t want to get out of bed. I was lost. I didn’t want any hockey stuff up of myself. I didn’t have any pictures of anything hockey-related. I didn’t want it. Some guys have their jerseys up. I didn’t want anything to do with any of it.”

He said people around the league helped him in the early years after retirement, including Pete Deboer, Lou Lamoriello, Adam Oates, and Bill Zito. Clarkson explained coaching is the closest you can get to playing and has helped him a lot in the post-playing journey. In addition to coaching, he works in player development for the Florida Panthers.

Clarkson currently lives in Colorado with his wife and five young children. Like most parents, he tries to limit his children’s screen time and take the family out for hikes and bike rides. He plays in a men’s league with other retired NHL players and does archery which he says is his version of yoga. All in all, it appears the fan-favorite has nicely settled into the next chapter of his life, even if it took time to get there. Clarkson also was the head coach of Ohio’s Upper Arlington High School ice hockey team for one season in 2017-18.

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“Over time I have gotten to know David and when he was a Maple Leaf I ventured to Madison Square Garden to see him play,” said Kuhn. “After the game, he saw me outside and came right over to chat which inadvertently held up the team bus, but that’s the kind of person he is. Whether it was sticking up for a teammate, tossing a puck to a kid after warmups, or getting to know fans he was a one-of-a-kind player.”

I can confidently speak on behalf of most Devils fans when I say I am thrilled to hear he is doing well. Clarkson may have only been a Devil for seven seasons, but he has cemented himself as a forever favorite in the garden state. Fans should thank Matt Loughlin for providing fans with the update they have been patiently waiting for.