NEWARK, N.J. - David Clarkson will tell you that the guidance of Peter DeBoer, back when both were with the Kitchener Rangers, is a big reason he's competing for the Stanley Cup.
But just as important for Clarkson in his rise to making an impact as a Devils forward was a meeting with New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello in the summer of 2005.
"The way he spoke about the organization and the way it was family-wise, I knew it was the place I wanted to be," Clarkson said. "But I didn't know I was going to be here. I just knew I was going to the American league."
With so much concentration on the NHL entry draft every June, especially during the weeks leading up to the annual crapshoot, it's important to remember there will be some kids eligible who aren't selected but will have fine NHL careers. Clarkson is one such example, as he never did hear his name called and instead signed as a free agent with the Devils in August 2005.
Clarkson's junior years with the Rangers, which peaked with a Memorial Cup championship in Quebec City in 2003, were marked by determination. The native of Mimico, Ont., had to work for every shift he got under DeBoer, who figured he had something special in Clarkson not long after the kid arrived in Kitchener in 2002 after failing to earn a regular spot with the Belleville Bulls.
"Coaches have a lot of time for guys who aren't handed anything," DeBoer, reunited with Clarkson when the Devils hired him last year, said. "He wasn't handed a job in junior hockey. He wasn't drafted into the NHL. He is a guy who has worked for everything he has. You have a lot of time for people like that."
The rough-and-tumble Clarkson, who scored a personal-best 30 goals during the 2011-12 season, needed two years in the minors before he made a full-time transition to the Devils lineup in 2007-08.
"I was lucky when I got to the American league, because I had (coach) Robbie Ftorek, who taught me more about hockey than most people," Clarkson said. "And you ask a lot of guys who Pete has coached, he has really developed them into the players they are. As a kid, he believed in me, pushed me. He has given me the biggest opportunity I've had in my career so far."
So perhaps it's not surprising to know that Clarkson, who has had to fight for everything in his NHL career, many times literally, isn't daunted by the Devils' 3-1 series disadvantage against the Los Angeles Kings.
"You feel pretty fortunate to be where you are right now, to be in the situation we are in," Clarkson said. "We're still playing. Last year at this time I had been at home for a while. I know we're in a bit of a hole, but we've never stopped believing in each other."