NEWARK, N.J. -- For the second time in four days, the New Jersey Devils will welcome back a former teammate to Prudential Center on Sunday.
Right wing David Clarkson, who spent seven seasons with the Devils before signing a seven-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs in July 2013, will play in New Jersey for the first time since his departure. The Devils host the Maple Leafs at 7 p.m. ET.
"The Devils' fans were always good to me," Clarkson said. "I loved playing here, I loved wearing that Devils logo. It's a place that will always be close to my heart."
Thursday, the Devils defeated former captain Zach Parise in his return as a member of the Minnesota Wild, 4-3 in overtime. Parise wasn't quite given a warm welcome and was booed from start to finish.
"No matter what the fans do, I know it's always tough on fans when players go other places, but I loved playing here," Clarkson said. "[Devils general manager] Mr. [Lou] Lamoriello gave me my first opportunity. The reason I'm the player I am, the person I am, is because of my experiences here. The coaches and players I had here helped me; that says a lot about this organization."
The Devils signed Clarkson as an undrafted free agent in August 2005. He made his NHL debut March 15, 2007 and became a full-time player for New Jersey in 2007-08.
Clarkson, who was raised in Toronto's west end in Mimico, was one of the biggest free-agent signings last July. But the forward, who turns 30 on March 31, hasn't really lived up to expectations, producing four goals, 10 points and a minus-10 rating in 50 games. He's missed games due to suspension and injuries to his leg, elbow and foot.
"I could have never guessed the injuries and suspensions I would get; the way this year has gone I don't think I could have ever have imagined it," Clarkson said. "You just have to stay positive in that locker room. It would be easy to get upset and mad about it, but there's something more important here and that's the last 10 games of the season. Every game I have to come out and do the right things."
Clarkson has 97 goals and 73 assists for 170 points in 426 regular-season games for the Devils. He had 14 points in 44 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including 12 in 24 games in 2012 when the Devils reached Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Los Angeles Kings.
Maple Leafs second-line center Nazem Kadri knows it will be an emotional first period for Clarkson.
"He spent a lot of time here and had a lot of great relationships," Kadri said. "He loved his time being here and he loved the Jersey organization but I'm sure nothing would satisfy him more than two points."
The Maple Leafs, who have lost four straight, hold the first of two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference for a berth into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals each trail the Maple Leafs by one point.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer said Anton Volchenkov (lower body) would not be available.
"We'll dress a couple different guys during warm-up and make some decisions after that," he said.
Here are the projected lineups:
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – Nikolai Kulemin
Mason Raymond – Dave Bolland – David Clarkson
Troy Bodie – Jay McClement – Colton Orr
Dion Phaneuf – Carl Gunnarsson
Jake Gardiner – Cody Franson
Morgan Rielly – Tim Gleason
Scratched: Peter Holland
Injured: Paul Ranger (neck), Jonathan Bernier (groin)
Tuomo Ruutu - Adam Henrique - Patrik Elias
Dainius Zubrus - Travis Zajac - Jaromir Jagr
Ryane Clowe - Stephen Gionta - Michael Ryder
Ryan Carter - Damien Brunner
Mark Fayne - Andy Greene
Bryce Salvador - Eric Gelinas
Jon Merrill - Marek Zidlicky
Scratched: Peter Harrold, Steve Bernier
Injured: Tim Sestito (upper body), Anton Volchenkov (lower body)