Clarkson was known for most of his career as a fighter with some offensive skill. While he produced at least 20 points a season, including a career-high 17 goals in 2008-09, he always seemed to tease the team with his potential. He finished with just 18 points last season, a career-low despite playing in all 82 games.
This season, he's turned that all around. Clarkson has put up 38 points this season, recording a career-high 26 goals. He's three assists way from reaching his career high while continuing to provide a physical presence. It's no coincidence that his emergence comes with a new change behind the bench.
It's no coincidence that Clarkson's rise has come with DeBoer in charge. The two spent five years together with the Kitchner Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League, combining for a Memorial Cup championship in 2002-03. Clarkson put up his highest point totals under DeBoer, reaching 54 points during the 2004-05 season. He reached that mark despite recording 145 penalty minutes, and added eight points in 15 playoff games. During his career as a Ranger, Clarkson collected 121 points (72g, 49a) and 440 penalty minutes in 160 games.
Clarkson's toughness was never in question. In his first two seasons, Clarkson collected 347 penalty minutes. But the offensive potential was there. He recorded 22 points his rookie season, then jumped to 32 points in his sophomore campaign. That included netting 17 goals, a career high at the time.
This season, Clarkson has put the entire package together. He continues to lead the team with 116 penalty minutes, and has been more selective when dropping the gloves. His 26 goals are third on the team, ahead of Patrik Elias. He's also scored seven powerplay goals, tied for most on the team. He's also scored in crunch time, leading the team with six game-winning goals.
For the past few years, Devils fans have heard about the potential of Clarkson. For the first time, they're seeing the total package on the ice. It's a promise fulfilled for the right wing, and a revelation that has helped New Jersey find themselves in the thick of the playoff picture.