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Surprising choice of Peter DeBoer as new coach sits well with Devils players

NEWARK, N.J. - For the past 24 hours, New Jersey Devils forward David Clarkson has received more than his share of telephone calls and text messages from teammates.

The questions are basically the same: "What's it like to play for Peter DeBoer?"

The 27-year-old Clarkson laughs when asked about the queries, but he understands. He played for DeBoer for three seasons with Kitchener in the OHL and he's thrilled that his former boss has been given the job of getting the Devils back to the playoffs after missing out for the first time since 1996.

"He is just a very honest person," Clarkson said. "He is going to tell you what we need to do to be better. He believes in his players and the people who are playing and working for him. I can tell you that goes a long way with players. It helped me that he believed in me."

Clarkson had some of his most productive seasons playing for DeBoer, including 33 goals in 31 games in 2004-05, his final year in junior hockey.

Having watched DeBoer coach the Florida Panthers the past three seasons, Clarkson said his coaching style has not changed much. His teams pressure the puck, play disciplined on defence and work hard.

"If everybody works hard and just buys in, it will go pretty smooth," Clarkson said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "He is a very smart coach and a very smart man. So, it will be exciting to see."

DeBoer and the Devils will both be coming into next season looking to improve. After all, he failed to get the Panthers to the post-season in his three years there.

"You're in this league and in this job to win and play in the playoffs. And up until the last three years, I'd never missed the playoffs in my coaching career," said DeBoer, who spent 13 seasons in the OHL. "So, that's something that ate at you every day and that's also something that was very attractive about this opportunity. This is a team that perennially was in the playoffs and should be and should have a chance to win."

The Devils, who had a miserable start under rookie coach John MacLean last year, had their playoff streak stopped at 13 years.

"I think you always have something to prove when your team doesn't do very well," said Clarkson, who called DeBoer to congratulate him on Wednesday. "At the same time, I don't think we can sit there and put a lot of pressure on ourselves. I think we know what we have to do as players, and all of us individually, to be better. If we all do those things, we'll be just fine."

Centre Travis Zajac also had a chance to play for DeBoer while competing for Canada during the recent World Hockey Championship in Slovakia. DeBoer was an assistant on Ken Hitchcock's staff.

"He is a guy that will get the most out of you every night," Zajac said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "His teams were always well prepared and they were always tough to play against. They always played a specific way and I expect him to bring that to the Devils."

Zajac spoke briefly with DeBoer on Wednesday and said he seemed excited to get the season underway.

"It's going to be a good relationship as long as we respect each other," Zajac said. "He is going to be that guy who pushes us and get us to the next level."


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