VANCOUVER – David Clarkson has picked up the tab on just two tickets in his return home to play for the Leafs this fall. Family and friends of the Toronto native have actually been more comfort than unnecessary distraction so far.
In fact, it's been the adjustment of playing with a new team after eight years in the New Jersey Devils organization that has proved most challenging for the 29-year-old to date. Inked to a massive seven-year deal worth $36.75 million this past summer, Clarkson is admittedly trying to figure out where he fits in the scheme of things for the Leafs, who lead the Eastern Conference at the outset of November.
Employed in an offensive role in New Jersey, Clarkson has played a different part in the first four games of his Toronto tenure, after serving a 10-game suspension to start the season. The former Kitchener Ranger has joined Dave Bolland and Mason Raymond on a line charged with shutting down opposing top units; their efforts most notable in a victory over Sidney Crosby and the Penguins last week. Formerly a first unit power-play contributor with the Devils, Clarkson didn't see a single second of power-play time during a two-game swing through Alberta – both wins – stuck behind a skillful cast that features Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul, and Mason Raymond.
A free agent signing of the Devils in the summer of 2005, Clarkson evolved from a scrappy checker who dropped the gloves on the regular into a physical, goal-scoring irritant who fought only sparingly. Though he buried 30 goals once previously, the Leafs didn't add him with offence atop the mind, the intangibles of his game seen as more valuable to a young team looking to build from its success in 2013.
Speaking to the Leaf Report earlier this week Clarkson hinted at the role he imagined playing in Toronto and the one he's been entrusted to play thus far. Notching his first point as a Leaf in Calgary on Wednesday, he explained the challenges of his adjustment. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.
LR: Bigger adjustment, on the ice or off the ice when you've been with an organization for so long?
CLARKSON: I'd have to say probably on the ice. I think I'm used to linemates or a certain way of things or even a way you play or get played. But I think being home, off the ice isn't as much adjustment. I think it's nice I'm closer to home. You have family and friends around if you need anything. I'd have to say for sure bigger [adjustment] on the ice.
LR: If I'm not mistaken you played with Patrik Elias a lot in New Jersey; what would be the adjustment in playing with a guy for so long and then coming to a new team and playing with a whole new set of teammates?
CLARKSON: I think it takes time to get used to. I've got to get used to the way things are here. I'm never going to change the way I play [or] what made me successful. I'm trying to find where that leash is that I have to get to. But I'm starting to get used to the coaching staff a little bit and the way things are.
I think as a pro you've got to learn who you're playing with and learn the role you have to play. I'm just trying to figure that whole role out right now.
LR: So is that expectations of what they want you to do in certain situations?
CLARKSON: Unsure. I think from the Pitt game to [the Edmonton] game it seems like [Randy Carlyle] really wants us out there against the top line shutting them down. I did that earlier in my career, maybe my first couple years in the league, and my last three [years] it's been a bit of a different role. I think if you can mesh the two together, find a way to do that, it would be obviously a perfect situation. But you've got to, as a teammate; if the team's winning that's all that matters. And you've got to find a way to fit and find a way they want to use you. I'm still learning all that. That's the big thing is I'm trying to learn everything that they expect.
LR: I feel like that's a role you would like though…
CLARKSON: Yeah. If you can blend that with the role I was playing. I think you take pride anytime you're on the ice against another team's top line and you end the night where you've shut them down and won a game it's an important thing; it's a big part of winning. It's never been said to me that's what [Carlyle] wants me to do, but it seems like that.
No matter role I'm asked to play, I take it to heart, I take it personal and I'm going to go out there and do my best to do whatever's asked of me.