It’s the Scottish thing.
“He’s that crazy Scottish guy,” said Mikhail Grabovski
. “All my friends talk about that.”
The crazy Scottish guy is Clarke MacArthur
, picked up by the Leafs in the pre-season for the price of a stamp less 57 cents. Ok, that’s not entirely true. Sixty cents with tax.
MacArthur is about as Scottish as a tin of maple syrup but he is the canny presence on a Leafs line that has roared past expectations and he is having himself a year.
MacArthur leads the Leafs in scoring and while 40th in the league is a way down it’s still better than Bobby Ryan, Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Semin and Patrick Kane.
He’s had help, of course. If you throw out power play points, the unit of MacArthur, Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin
has struck for 69 points. That’s a dozen more even strength points than Alexander Ovechkin’s unit and 20 more than the San Jose trio of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley.
There is alchemy in an effective line. Three players with radically different backgrounds (a Russian, a Belarusarian and a Canadian) and talents must find common ground within a couple of days or risk being pulled apart and pieced together with someone else.
The Leafs line is a fine example of individual talents producing an unexpected harmony.
“Grabo is the glue in the middle,” said MacArthur who seeds a player with scoring touch and the ability to make plays.
Even though MacArthur’s forte is subtle little plays, it makes more sense, he said, to put Grabovski in the middle of the ice.
“He’s a better skater than I am and he’s stronger down low. He's always jugging around.”
That leaves Kulemin, a superb skater who is no harder to move than a refrigerator and who will chase the puck relentlessly.
MacArthur says his forte is the little pass, the five to 10 foot jobs. “They can open up a lot of space for a guy,” he said. “What you want to create is little two on ones.”
That type of subtle play is what Grabovski has come to look for.
“He’s a smart player, he has great vision,” Grabovski said. “If I’m in alone, he always finds me with the puck.”
This is by far the best MacArthur has played in stints with the Buffalo Sabers and Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers walked away from an arbitration win last summer and set MacArthur free. His strong play has been critical for the improvement of Kulemin and Grabovski.
MacArthur is the leader of the troika. You can see it in television timeouts where MacArthur can be seen exhorting his linemates. It is MacArthur who organizes the video sessions with his linemates. He is considered one of the hardest working Leafs, on the ice and off.
MacArthur has played on the same unit since the earliest days of the season. Still, he has seen many lines flounder because of a toxic chemistry.
“This happened to me in Buffalo,” he said. “Sometimes you would play with guys whose game was to chip the puck in. There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s not the way I play.”
A few months after being cut loose, MacArthur, a restricted free agent, finds himself a widely appreciated player. Teams are often that way with their leading scorers.
His linemates, enjoying their best ever seasons, endorse his return.
“I would love to play with these guys for five more years,” MacArthur said.