Who would replace the 31 goals and 69 points that Parise posted on offense for his team in defense of its Eastern Conference championship in 2012-13?
So far, through 10 games this season, left wing David Clarkson has helped quiet the critics.
"When Parise left, that opened up a hole in our top six for a winger and David has moved to the first power-play unit, so his offensive role has increased," DeBoer said. "But he's earned that promotion and having the chance to be that guy after Zach left."
Clarkson, an undrafted player who signed with the Devils as a free agent in 2005, leads the team with seven goals and 13 points. It wasn't too long ago, two seasons in fact, that Clarkson connected for 12 goals and 18 points in 82 games.
In a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday at Prudential Center, Clarkson notched an assist on the eventual game-winning power-play goal by Andy Greene and now has at least one point in nine contests.
Does the 28-year-old consider his turnaround some retribution for anyone who doubted his ability?
"I think so," he told NHL.com. "When I was a kid, quitting hockey had more to do with family members passing away, and it just kind of stung me a bit growing up with them. I always loved the hockey part, but I think proving people wrong is something I'll always have to do."
It's something Clarkson doesn't mind either.
"Just coming from where I did," Clarkson said. "Coming into the League, people said I wasn't tough, wasn't big enough. There was no way I could do that. But I enjoy that part of it … to me that's fine because I'll do my thing and go to those areas of the ice. I'm not trying to impress anybody. I'm going out there, playing a game I love and enjoying it."
One intriguing statistic that has gone under the radar is the fact Clarkson has taken 41 shots, an average of 4.1 per game. He logged a season-high seven in a shootout loss to the Boston Bruins on Jan. 29 and is on pace for more than 200 in this shortened season.
"I'm getting more chances because I'm getting more opportunities," Clarkson said. "There's only one way to score and that's getting it on net, so when I get an opportunity to get it on net, I'm shooting because this is a game where if you don't shoot, you don't score. I've been focused on getting more opportunities, finding those areas of the ice to make plays and then, when I get a chance, making sure I get it on net."
In his 80 games last season, Clarkson finished third on the Devils with 228 shots (2.8 per game) on the way to a career-best 30-goal campaign. Clarkson has struck for four power-play goals in 2012-13, four shy of the career high he set last season.
DeBoer has seen Clarkson as a player making the most of his opportunities.
"I think when we had Parise here last year and a little more depth offensively, we penciled [Clarkson] in as a third-line guy who we thought could create some mismatches for us against fifth and sixth defensemen," DeBoer said. "I always knew David as a guy who could score, play physical and give us some depth on offense. He's doing that so far this season."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
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