In a very good article written by Toronto Star writer Kevin McGran, he noted that Leafs Nation had already taken to referring to Clarkson as Wendel Clarkson; necessarily conjuring images of the second coming of Wendel Clark.
“When I was a kid, I ran around the house wearing a Wendel Clark jersey,” said Clarkson. “I pretended I was him. My dad brought me up a Leaf fan.
“I play a style of hockey where I come out every night and wear my heart on my sleeve. That’s the type of player I am. I try to do different little things, whether it’s scoring, or hitting. The pressure, every game you go on that ice, you need to do well, you need to do something. Every night I’m going to go out there, put the hard hat on and go to work.”
Of course, Clarkson was never going to be Wendel Clark. While Clark played with a lot of grit and would not back down from anyone, much like the always willing Clarkson, he was a gifted scorer with exceptional hands around the net.
He also had a lethal snap shot that Clarkson does not have.
In other words, projecting Clarkson as Clark was never reasonable. Expectations based on his 2011-12 season where he tallied 30 goals were hopeful at best. Clarkson had never scored more than 17 goals in an NHL season outside of that one, although he was on pace to better that last year with 15 in 48 games.
However, the Leafs were not in need of a high-scoring winger with the likes of James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel already in the lineup.
What they needed from the former Devil was some veteran leadership, timely goals, but most importantly, an ability to tilt the ice in Toronto's favour. This would take some pressure off their inexperienced defence.
Leadership has been an issue so far. Clarkson has not given the Leafs what they need in this department. Clarkson has just finished serving his second suspension this season. He has been reckless in both instances where he has been suspended. The Leafs need him in the lineup in order to help lead this young squad.
When he has been on the ice, it has been tilted heavily in the Leafs favour. His relative Corsi Number of 12.3 is the best on the team. Quite simply, with Clarkson on the ice, the Leafs outshoot the opposition to a large degree. The team creates a lot more scoring chances when he is on the ice, and to take it further, the puck is in the Leafs' end much less with him on the ice.
That is precisely what the Leafs need more of as they spend far too much time chasing the opposition in their own end. Their team shot differential is terrible. It is the worst in the league, and they give up nearly 10 more shots per game than they take.
Timely goals, effective special teams play and very good goaltending on most nights has made the difference for the Leafs. While it has proven mildly successful, it is a difficult formula to maintain over an entire season.
Furthermore, Clarkson has gotten off to a dismal start in terms of goal scoring. He has just two in 23 games. His shot percentage of 4.3 is less than half of his career percentage, so expect that to rise. To the eye, a lot of this seems to be him simply trying to do too much given the pressure of playing in his hometown, coupled with the obvious pressures of his big contract.
Clarkson has not been a bust. While he has been a disappointment, expectations for him to increase his goal-scoring output, and for him to build on his superior Corsi numbers, should remain high.
While he won't be Wendel Clark, the best version of David Clarkson is just what the mercurial Leafs need right now.
All stats are courtesy of nhl.com unless otherwise noted.