TORONTO – As David Clarkson spent his first day on Toronto ice alongside his idol Wendel Clark, the comparisons between the Maple Leafs’ newest winger and their past star had already started.
Clarkson hopes his tenure in Toronto earns him that kind of stature, but Clark already sees the 29-year-old as a better player.
“I haven’t got that talent,” Clark said Thursday after he and Clarkson worked with some kids at the team’s hockey school.
“He brings all parts of the game. It’s not a one-dimensional game. Whatever game you want to play, that’s how he’ll play it. If it’s going to be a physical night, he’s there. If it’s part of putting the puck in the net, he’s there. If it gets even rougher on a different night … Dave can play every part of the game, no matter which way the game goes.”
Clarkson, who signed a seven-year, US$36.75-million deal with the Leafs last week, has plenty of work to do to live up to that contract. That includes scoring and being the kind of grinding, physical force he was with the New Jersey Devils.
But Clark, who knows a thing or two about pressure after being the top pick in the 1985 draft, thinks it’s unfair to count on everything from Clarkson, who has just one 30-goal season.
“Dave will come out and play his style, especially at home,” Clark said. “I think his style suits that coming in here because this isn’t really a road building for a lot of teams with 10 hometown boys usually on every other team. It’s good. It reminds me a little bit of the old days … it’s going to be a long night when you’re playing against him.”
Clark had a similar impact during parts of 12 seasons with the Leafs as he battled injuries and tried to balance physicality and offence. Growing up in the Toronto area, Clarkson has a couple of specific memories about his idol.
“I think it had to do with either going down the wing with a big shot and scoring, or a fight,” he said. “I love that style of play or sticking up for a teammate. Those are the kinds of things that I enjoyed watching when I was young.”
So it’s no surprise that Clarkson, when he grew into his six-foot-one, 200-pound frame, tried to do the same at the NHL level. Clark didn’t even mind the “Wendel Clark-son” nickname.
“It’s all good,” Clark said. “Any time you can bring energy to the team, it’s not just about scoring and everything. It takes all types of players, so when you can bring different personalities in and lead-by-example guys and bring energy to the building, that’s the fun part.”
The Clark-Clarkson comparisons will only go so far, though. Clarkson hasn’t decided what jersey number he’ll wear next season, but he ruled out No. 17.
“Couldn’t do that. I couldn’t live up to what he had done,” he said. “To me, it was a childhood thing. But no, that’s not in the equation.”