Clarkson: Lamoriello, DeBoer ‘biggest reasons’ he’s in the NHL

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On Friday night, Toronto forward David Clarkson will face off against the Devils — the team he broke into the National Hockey League with.

And to hear him explain it, he wouldn’t be where he is today without them.

“Mr. Lamoriello and Pete DeBoer are probably two of the biggest reasons I’m in the National Hockey League,” Clarkson said, as per the Canadian Press. “Pete DeBoer is someone that I believe has made me successful in my career by giving me opportunity and believing in me and understanding me as a person.”

Clarkson, 29, signed a massive seven-year, $36.75 deal with Toronto this summer, a financial windfall based largely on his body of work with the Devils, a club that deserves credit for aiding in his development. The Devils signed Clarks as an undrafted free agent in 2005 and allowed him to grow as a player —  when Clarkson broke in, he was primarily viewed as a checking/enforcer-type (he fought 41 times in his first two full years with New Jersey) but matured into a good power forward, scoring a career-high 30 goals in 2011-12 (and 12 points in 24 playoff games en route to the Stanley Cup Final.)

“I think I’ll always be grateful to them,” Clarkson explained. “I’ll always be thankful.”

What’s interesting now, though, is that Clarkson finds himself almost back at square one in Toronto. The role he established for himself in New Jersey has escaped him in Toronto — his 10-game suspension to start the year and a rash of injuries to Maple Leaf forwards have forced him to move all over the place, without establishing a true identity.

“I’m trying to get to know my surroundings,” Clarkson said. “I got suspended early in exhibition so I really don’t know much yet. I’m just trying to fit in (as a) piece of the puzzle, wherever that is.

“It has been different, but I’m trying to figure out what part it is that I do fit in.”