Travis Zajac, who figures to be the Devils’ top center, believes there should be no doubts about Clarkson being a first-liner.Clarkson's importance to last season's Cup run can't be understated and the fact that he did it mostly from the third line is even more impressive. He's been skating on the third line in camp thus far, although that has more do with DeBoer and Lou Lamoriello wanting to see how much youngsters Bobby Butler and Mattias Tedenby could contribute. Complicating matters is the fact that Ilya Kovalchuk will be back in camp tomorrow and Adam Henrique will return in about two weeks. I think Clarkson deserves a shot at the top unit, especially given that his size and physical style of play would present a nice compliment to Kovy and Travis Zajac.
“I don’t think so. I definitely don’t think that’s out of the question,” Zajac said. “Clarkie has gotten better every year. He’s played a bigger role every year. He had an unbelievable season last year and I think he’s just going to get better. I think he’s a guy who is going to have a big role on the team this year.”
However, I think he'll settle probably somewhere between the second and third lines -- depending on which youngsters stick out of camp -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing. As we saw in the playoffs, depth scoring is what gave the Devils an edge over teams most night and Clarkson is key to that. When a team is deep enough they can get 30 goals from a third-line winger, things are structured the right way. I think Clarkson's best fit is with whoever centers the second line -- be it Henrique or Zajac -- where he can contribute around 18-20 goals and about 10-12 assists, which is the 48-game equivalent of 30-32 goals and 18-20 assists.