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Clarkson looking forward to fresh start in Columbus

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets think they see in forward David Clarkson many of the traits present in some of the their top players.

"He's gritty. He plays the 200 feet and he's scored a lot of goals in this League," left wing Nick Foligno said. "He's going to help us on the offensive side but also defensively and being a hard person to play against. That's what we pride ourselves on.

"He's going to be another person to solidify that identity."

Clarkson, acquired Thursday from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade for injured forward Nathan Horton, has struggled the past two seasons after signing a seven-year, $36.75 million contract following several productive seasons with the New Jersey Devils, including 30 goals in 2011-12.

"A fresh start and play the way I did back in Jersey and get back to myself, that's something I’m excited for," Clarkson said Friday. "I don't regret playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs or signing there. It was something I dreamed of as a boy and I was fortunate enough to do that."

Clarkson has 10 goals and 15 points in 58 games this season after he had five goals and 11 points in 60 games last season for Toronto.

"I wish things would have gone better but I'm excited to take in a new town and be a part of a new chapter in my life," the 30-year-old said. "The role I played in New Jersey is a lot different than I played in Toronto. I hope to get back to that and how I can play like I can."

Clarkson didn't say what that role was, but Columbus coach Todd Richards has an idea how Clarkson can regain his scoring touch.

"I know the [30-goal] year he had in Jersey he was out in front of the net a lot and he was getting the stick on every puck that seemed to come his way," Richards said. "He was scoring his goals from 3, 4 feet from the net."

Richards likened Clarkson's style to that of Foligno and Columbus forwards Scott Hartnell and Matt Calvert. Richards welcomes another player who likes to go to the dirty areas.

"We have some guys that would fit that [description] but we don't do it consistently enough," he said.

Hartnell remembers playing for the Philadelphia Flyers against Clarkson when he was with the Devils.

"You knew when him and his line were on the ice," Hartnell said. "They were physical. He's a guy kind of like myself. You're on the forecheck fast. You're hitting guys and finishing checks. He's an honest guy too; he'll stick up for his teammates."

Clarkson is expected to fly from Toronto to Columbus on Friday night and be in the lineup against the Devils in Nationwide Arena on Saturday; he'll wear No. 18.

"He's heart and soul-type player," Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "That's why we're excited to have Dave. He'll fit our needs and our group perfectly."

If Clarkson plays Saturday he'll do so without practicing with his teammates because no morning skate is scheduled.

"It's a young team and me being older and playing in the League for a while, I'm going there to feel things out for myself," he said. "The main thing is they play a fast-paced game. They play very hard, in-your-face. They're a hard-working team. It fits me well the way I play."

He will find a city and setting that is unlike the scrutiny he faced in Toronto, but that doesn't mean he won't be held accountable, said Foligno, who played five seasons for the Ottawa Senators.

"I'm sure he'll learn from his experiences in Toronto and it will make him a better person, a better player because of it but there's still pressure to win here," Foligno said. "I understand it's not the same as a Canadian team but there's pressure to bring a winning franchise and a winning organization here. We all feel that.

David Clarkson
Right Wing - CBJ
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 15
SOG: 93 | +/-: -11
"In Toronto it's so over the top the things they have to deal with. It's almost unbearable at times. I've been in Ottawa where they make controversies out of nothing sometimes, so I think it's going to be refreshing for him."

Clarkson said he understood the pressure of trying to live up to the contract he signed with the Maple Leafs in July 2013.

"Playing in a city like Toronto, the fans are very passionate there," he said. "They're some of the best fans in the League just because how much they want to win.

"As a player the expectations I have on myself are there wherever you play. You want to do well. It didn't go the way I planned but that's what I’m hoping to do when I get to Columbus."

Hartnell, in his first season with the Blue Jackets, said Columbus will be an eye-opener for Clarkson.

"It's a low-key city," he said. "It's got a great fan base. The fans are awesome. Coming here as a visiting team you don't really know the buzz around hockey. We haven't had the best of seasons but still there's a lot of positivity around town."

Foligno said the Blue Jackets are happy to add a player to the lineup after Horton's injuries limited him to 35 games last season, the first of a seven-year $37.1 million contract.

Horton missed the first half of 2013-14 after having shoulder surgery and has not played this season because of a degenerative back condition that could end his career.

"I know he was really committed here and it just didn't pan out with his health," Foligno said. "At the same time we’re getting a really good player for a guy who has doubts with a lot of things. Clarkson's here to help us right now. The main thing was we were waiting to see what would happen [to Horton]. This is a guy that can step in and help us right now."

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