The full cast of what general manager Dave Nonis put in place in the off-season may soon get its first look.
The Toronto Maple Leafs may be 6-3-0, but they haven't yet had free agent David Clarkson in the lineup due to a 10-game suspension that will end Friday, when he'll finally make his debut in Columbus.
It's been a trying wait for the team's unlikely $36.75-million man.
"There's nothing worse sitting and watching your team play and not being part of it," Clarkson said. "That was tough… I don't think I've ever been through this in my career. Probably the hardest start to a season I've had so far."
"Obviously it's been a while that we have been waiting for him," coach Randy Carlyle said. "We see him every day."
Clarkson will probably have some company, too. Also expected back in that time frame is enforcer Frazer McLaren, who has been recovering a shattered pinky finger suffered after he was slashed by rookie Carter Ashton in training camp.
His return is contingent on him doing what he does best.
"As long as he feels he can handle the stick and make a fist and totally heal, that's what it'll be," Carlyle said of McLaren's return date, which should give his team's sagging fighting majors totals a boost, if nothing else. "I know 'making a fist' sounds like a bad description, but that's part of the healing process. He can't play if he can't grip his stick."
As for the two other Leafs on long-term injured reserve – Nikolai Kulemin (broken ankle bone) and Mark Fraser (knee) – they are expected back at practice in the near future, after which time it'll be another week to 10 days before they can enter the lineup.
The earliest that is likely to happen is next week as part of the Leafs western Canada road trip, although nothing is certain in terms of a return date there.
After facing Vancouver on Nov. 2, however, Toronto has a string of five days off that should allow both to recover fully.
"Kulemin and Fraser are on a timetable to be somewhere around the 29th… that was the original time frame," Carlyle explained. "To say that they're going to be available, I can't give you that answer because that's too far away and we're eight days away. I would suspect they'll be joining us shortly on the ice."
As for Clarkson, who has been practising with the team and watching from the press box during home games, Carlyle said he doesn't want the gritty winger going out trying to tear anyone's head off.
Clarkson landed in hot water with the league after leaving the bench to join a preseason brawl against the Buffalo Sabres, one of several actions he took in exhibition games that made him seem a bit overeager to please with his hometown team.
"I think in exhibition with all that going on I was a little wound up and excited," Clarkson said. "But now I can just come in and play. Do what I'm here to do and that's get to the front of the net, put the puck in the net, bring that physical presence."
"We're just looking at him to come in and add a piece to our puzzle," Carlyle said. "We think he can make a contribution but again we don't want to put too much pressure on him. He hasn't played in a while. We just want him to do the simple things, be David Clarkson, and make the simple, strong play."
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