10 games, 7 wins, and a whole lot of shots against into the season the Toronto Maple Leafs will finally get to see their prized offseason acquisition David Clarkson don the Maple Leaf crest in an actual NHL game as they head to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets on Friday night.
Clarkson missed the first 10 games of the season after hopping off of the bench to attempt to “save” Phil Kessel from super goon John Scott in the preseason. Clarkson spent those 10 games “playing cheerleader and getting jacked”, and is likely chomping at the bit to get on the ice to prove that he was worth the $36.75 million contract he signed in the offseason. Many observers were worried Clarkson would try to hard to prove his worth, and if anything his suspension just exacerbated those fears.
With 72 games left in the regular season, Clarkson has plenty of time to make an impact on a team that has been successful on the scoreboard while being thoroughly outplayed on the ice most nights. Clarkson has been a consistently solid, occasionally exceptional possession player for most of his career, a skill that is desperately lacking in the Leafs current line up.
The one player that will see the greatest benefit of Clarkson’s return? Joffrey Lupul, whom has played with a carousel of linemates through 10 games of the season, including cameos from perennial Marlies Josh Leivo and David Broll, will finally have a winger that has the ability to play at his level. Lupul has been the Leafs best forward, and with another winger that has the ability to win the possession game, the Leafs second line just went from Lupul is awesome, to “this line is fun”. With the Leafs top-6 forwards now consisting of players that belong on the top-6 of an NHL team (well Tyler Bozak doesn’t count), they are actually starting to look like a good team (if you squint).
After a 3 week absence from game action, a little bit of rust from Clarkson is to be expected, but unlike most “returns”, Clarkson wasn’t injured, and was able to practice with the team throughout his absence. While he will have to once again get used to the pace of the game, Clarkson shouldn’t have to work himself back into shape.
So what would be considered a success for David Clarkson’s shortened season? If he scores at his career rate, he should come in at around 16 goals for the season, or as Phil Kessel likes to call it “breakfast”. However Clarkson wasn’t just signed for his goal scoring. He’s going to bring a physicality and grit to the Leafs top-6 that it has been lacking, while shoring up a woeful possession game. I think Clarkson has a good year, getting up to around 20 goals and 40 points on the season.
Friday night may not be the Maple Leafs debut that David Clarkson dreamt about growing up in Toronto, but it’s better than nothing. Clarkson will be determined to make an impact in his first game as a Leaf, whether by scoring, or by dropping the gloves (almost a guarantee he fights), he’s going to do something to get out attention.