Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Preseason Issue #2: Clarkson & Brylin
That's why this is an issue. Let us assume Clarkson makes the team. One possible decision head coach Brent Sutter might make is to put Brylin at right wing on the third line and Clarkson behind him on the fourth line. Brylin has played at that spot last season many times, and he's good enough defensively for the line to be a solid checking line. However, I question whether that would be using Clarkson to the best of his abilities. Yes, he's gritty, he can energize the team with physical play, but putting him at right wing on the fourth line would diminish his offensive capabilities because of the lack of ice time the fourth line normally gets and the general role of the fourth line that the Devils have had in recent seasons - a physical, gritty, energy line. Unless Sutter changes what the philosophy behind the fourth line, Clarkson may become a better physical forward, but not necessarily a better forward.
We could see the reverse: Brylin could be put on the fourth line (anywhere on that line, but more on that tomorrow) and Clarkson could line up on the third line. Brylin would add some skill to the fourth line and history has shown he can play with just about anybody anywhere. On the other hand, he wouldn't fit well should it be primarily a physical line. Clarkson on the third line could be a return of checking lines that featured Pandolfo, Madden, and a physical forward. In the past that was Turner Stevenson and Grant Marshall - gritty guys who added a physical edge to the checking line. I'd like to think Clarkson may have more skill than those guys; but that's not necessarily a good comparison given Clarkson's inexperience and the fact Marshall and Stevenson were in NJ either in or past the prime of their careers. Nevertheless, should Clarkson develop into the next Randy McKay, it would be similar to that. The big question is whether Clarkson can play the role of a good checking forward. If he can, great. If he can't, putting him at the third line would hurt the line overall and prove to be a bad idea to play him there.
A more extreme (and interesting) idea is to mix up the right wingers even further and get Jamie Langenbrunner to a different line. Langenbrunner has played very, very well with Pandolfo and Madden in the past. Together, they were the J-Line wherein opposing forwards would have a rough time when those three were on the ice. Brylin could be slotted on the fourth line to add skill to that line (and provide additional help where necessary), Langenbrunner can re-unite with Madden and Pandolfo to form an even better checking line, and Clarkson can play up on the second line with Parise and Zajac. The extra ice time will help Clarkson's development and he would be encouraged to be more than just a banger, to be a scoring forward. His brief time in NJ last season did show some offensive prowess, looking good when he was on the top two lines in some games. Plus, Clarkson would had a physical dimension to that line - and there's nothing wrong with a little more bump and grind along the boards. On the other hand, it's a very risky move to A) break up an already successful scoring line, B) place a rookie on a top two scoring line where Parise would be the veteran of the three, and C) put a lot of pressure on Clarkson early to produce. That all said, if Clarkson could handle it, the results would be great.
An even more intriguing issue will be how Sutter determines who will be on the fourth line. But more on that tomorrow.
I can also see the reasons for your McKay comparison - it's a good one.
As for Sarge, no one can downplay what he has meant to the organization. He is the ultimate in work ethic and versatility (not to mention bang for the buck). No doubt Sutter will find him as valuable as past coaches have. It would be hard to imagine him not fitting into any role he is given.
All this being said, I think with Clarkson's offensive potential, it would be hard to place him into 4th line duty, thus minimizing his ice time. Truly an interesting dilemma. It will be very interesting to see how this pans out. As always, with a new coach comes new ideas. I wouldn't be surprised to see completely different lines from what we've known in the past.