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Clarkson ready for long-awaited Maple Leafs debut

by Craig Merz /

COLUMBUS -- Toronto Maple Leafs right wing David Clarkson spent extra time after practices skating … and skating.

Now he's ready put those conditioning drills -- necessitated by a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to join an altercation during a preseason game -- to use Friday when he makes his Maple Leafs debut against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Nationwide Arena.

"I'm ready to go right away," he said following the morning skate. "I'm the best I've felt throughout this whole camp.

"It's exciting to be back and a part of something and [back] in the locker room. It's the little things you miss not being around the guys. It's been good."


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Clarkson, who signed a seven-year contract with the Maple Leafs on July 5 after six full seasons with the New Jersey Devils, came to the aid of Phil Kessel when the forward was being goaded into fighting the Buffalo Sabres' John Scott. Clarkson received the mandatory penalty but also the respect of his Toronto teammates.

"Everything that happened up there in the exhibition and what he did, I think him getting back in the lineup, his teammates will be excited that he's back," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "The other thing he does [Friday] is provide a big boost for his team."

The Maple Leafs are 7-3-0 without him and have the No. 2 power play (28.2 percent) in the League. Even so, expect Clarkson to play a central role in man-up situations.

"He's really good in front of the net," Richards said. "He goes to the net hard but he plays there. He does a good job screening and deflections. He might occupy two defenders; that opens up someone else."

Clarkson, a Toronto native, skated on a line with Mason Raymond and center Dave Bolland, but nothing ever etched is in stone on coach Randy Carlyle's team.

"I don't know if that will be the line, to be honest with you," Clarkson said. "I know Randy juggles things up. I'm just going out there prepared to play the way I play."

That's how Carlyle wants him to approach the game.

"I'm not asking him to do anything other than play a solid game," he said. "Knowing the type of player he is, we're cautioning him against trying to do too much.

"He's been an up-and-down winger, crash the net when he has the opportunity, go to the net. It's not going to be any different than what we're asking of him 10 games from now."

Clarkson said the toughest part of the suspension has been handling the mental aspect.

"When you're injured you're working to get something better or to get toward something," he said. "When you're suspended you're sitting there and trying to be the rah-rah guy in the room, always positive. But it is tough in that matter."

The Blue Jackets (4-5-0) know what it's like to have an energy player return to the lineup. Left wing Nick Foligno missed three games after the birth of his daughter last week but has been in the lineup for the Blue Jackets' modest two-game winning streak.

That's why Columbus center Derek MacKenzie knows the Maple Leafs will up their game with Clarkson back.

"That's a team that already has confidence, and to add a guy like that is going to be a real plus for their team," he said.

Here are the probable lineups for the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets on Friday at Nationwide Arena:


James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel

Jay McClement - Nazem Kadri - Joffrey Lupul

Mason Raymond - Dave Bolland - David Clarkson

Troy Bodie - Trevor Smith - Colton Orr

Dion Phaneuf - Carl Gunnarsson

Paul Ranger - Jake Gardiner

Cody Franson - Morgan Rielly

James Reimer

Jonathan Bernier

Scratched: Josh Leivo, Frazer McLaren

Notes: Lupul (bruised foot) is a game-time decision. Leivo could take his spot. McLaren (broken pinky) also might make his season debut with Bodie coming out.


Nick Foligno - Artem Anisimov - Marian Gaborik

Boone Jenner - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson

Blake Comeau - Ryan Johansen - RJ Umberger

Mark Letestu - Derek MacKenzie - Jared Boll

Fedor Tyutin - Dalton Prout

Jack Johnson - David Savard

Ryan Murray - James Wisniewski

Sergei Bobrovsky

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Ryan Craig, Nikita Nikitin

Notes: Boll missed the morning skate because of a stomach virus but Richards expects him to play. If he can't, Craig will replace him.

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