Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Undrafted to the NHL: Clarkson and Greene

Yesterday, James Mirtle had a list of who he thought were the current unsung heroes in the NHL this season. I don't know if "unsung hero" applies this early, but his point is spot on. Many of the players listed fit the bill of guys who most wouldn't expect too much in the preseason becoming important factors for their teams. At the least, we can attest to Tobias Enstrom, who looked very good with Atlanta on Sunday. Of course, this being a Devils blog, I'm going to focus on David Clarkson and Andy Greene. These two definitely fit the category of underrated players contributing in major ways.

Clarkson isn't just the leader of the team in penalty minutes (65) - he's been contributing on the box score with 3 goals and 4 assists while rotating between the top 6 forwards and the third line. His talents has allowed him to play many roles: pest, physical presence, defensive forward, net-crasher, and others. He's got a strong shot, he's got little fear on the ice, and he's pretty strong. He certainly impressed me last season in his first NHL game back in March, and with his entire short call-up with the Devils last season. I said he reminded me of a young Randy McKay and he's definitely playing like it. He's becoming a fan favorite here, but he really showed what he could in that short call-up and it's great that he's continuing to play the way he does.

It's even more impressive when you consider his origins; which also explains why he is so underrated. Clarkson was not drafted by a NHL team, serving his full career in the Ontario Hockey League with the Belleville Bulls and the Kitchener Rangers. A quick look at his career numbers at NHL.com show some modest point production (for the OHL) but some serious penalty minute counts. But the scouts saw more than a potential goon. He was signed directly to the Albany River Rats in their last season of affiliation with New Jersey, and, well, racked up even more penalty minutes. But picking up 13 goals and 34 points in your first season of professional hockey isn't so bad, especially considering how terrible Albany was. Clarkson followed the team to Lowell, decreased his penalty minutes and increased his goal production; suggesting he was maturing as a player. The proof of that came when the Devils called up the fiesty winger for a few games. Definitely not bad for an undrafted, physical forward from junior.

Andy Greene is the other player and Mirtle is impressed with his +10 in 25 games for a Devils squad that hasn't exactly been strong on defense this year. To me, Mirtle misses the most impressive number: 21:06. Greene has averaged 21:06 of ice time, the second highest amount of time on the Devils. That is an incredible amount of minutes and responsibility that Brent Sutter is putting into Greene, a player who is playing in his first full season and technically his second NHL season.

Greene didn't come out of left field like Clarkson. OK, Greene, like Clarkson, was undrafted and the Devils scouts sought him out for a professional contract. Unlike Clarkson, Greene was very good coming straight out of Miami of Ohio and into the Devils training camp. He spent 56 games in Lowell primarily due to salary cap reasons, and back in late February, I thought that the Devils traded David Hale to create the cap space for them to call up Greene. And, lo and behold, I was right as Greene was called up soon after and played 23 regular season games with New Jersey as well as all 11 playoff games. He looked pretty good to start with then. Now, Greene is in a top 4 defenseman spot and he doesn't look out of place. Don't get me wrong, he can improve and he'll need to - but given that he looks alright with his current workload, I would expect him to get even better. Moreso if/when Sutter realizes that Sutter has some offensive skills and puts Greene on the power play. Again, an undrafted player that wasn't really heralded except for the hardcore Devils fans who knew about his potential from drips and drabs of information until he got onto the ice and played. Again, playing in a full season opened up even more eyes.

It's great that Mirtle - and presumably anyone else - recognizes players like Clarkson and Greene. However, I want to take it a step further by stating that these two players are proof that you don't necessarily need to be a highly regarded prospect or a first-round draft pick or even a draft pick at all to contribute to a NHL hockey team. The fact that the Devils discovered them and helped develop them to be who they are today (and who they will be tomorrow) speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the Devils' scouting and the Devils organization for taking a chance and signing them. The important thing to consider is good players with talent and skills come from all possible areas. It may surprise you, but I'm sure those in the organization who see them practice and play every day would tell you it's not much of a surprise at all.

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