New Jersey Devils shouldn't use Graeme Clarke as trade bait

Graeme Clarke is a name that has come up in trade proposals. Here's why the New Jersey Devils should keep Clarke and finally give him a shot in the NHL.
Graeme Clarke
Graeme Clarke / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

In the 2024 offseason, the New Jersey Devils are looking for at least one of everything: a goaltender, a top-six winger, a bottom-six depth forward, and a defensive upgrade. General manager Tom Fitzgerald will look to make these additions to the team this summer via free agency or the trade market. 

The goalie move, of course, is the most talked about. Considering the lackluster free-agent market for goalies this offseason, the Devils will most likely make a trade. To obtain the kind of goalie the Devils are looking for, they’ll have to give up a significant return. Graeme Clarke shouldn’t be in that package.

Although the Devils are looking to bolster their forward depth this summer, they already have someone in the organization who could graduate from the AHL to fill a bottom-six slot. Clarke seems NHL-ready and has paid his dues. The 23-year-old was drafted by the Devils in the third round back in 2019. His entry-level contract is expiring, so he requires a new contract.

Clarke has progressed over the years, leading up to strong seasons in 2022-23 and 2023-24. In 68 games in 2022-23, he scored 25 goals and had 33 assists. He scored the same number of goals in 2023-24, with 24 assists. Clarke led the Utica Comets in goals this past season and was second in points. He was selected as an AHL All-Star in 2023-24.

Clarke has potential that can’t be ignored. It remains to be seen if his goal-scoring will translate at the NHL level, but the potential to add some scoring depth to the bottom-six among a group of talented forwards is there. The Devils really haven’t allowed Clarke to prove his worth at the NHL level yet. Clarke played a total of three games with the Devils in 2023-24, one in January and two in April.

The Devils should have given Clarke more of an opportunity in NHL games at the end of the 2023-24 season. Games that don’t matter are the perfect time to give prospects playing time. This was especially important for Clarke given his age. He was healthy scratched in the Devils’ final game of the season. In the three games he played, he didn’t light up the NHL. He had no points and made no notable impact, but it’s an incredibly small sample size. Clarke never had the chance to find his footing.

It’s worth noting that Clarke has had trouble staying healthy in past seasons, but that hasn’t been a problem the past two years. Clarke has always been a scoring winger, but he’s also worked to develop into a well-rounded player. He possesses playmaking skills and is a strong puck handler.

If a team is asking for Clarke in a trade, the Devils should see if they can slot a different player in. However, the Devils would not pass on a blockbuster trade in an insistence to keep Clarke. If he has to be in the package to get an important trade done, then he will be in a different organization next season. It’s possible that if Clarke gets traded, he could be a player who goes off and is a successful everyday NHL player somewhere else. He might then show the Devils what they missed out on.

Ultimately, it depends what the Devils' plan is for Clarke next season. It feels like the time is now for him, although he's been there before. If the Devils aren't going to promote Clarke next season, then maybe it would be best to trade him.

The Devils have held onto Clarke all these years, and they shouldn’t let him go now without seeing if he can pan out in the NHL. If the Devils can avoid trading Clarke, they should finally give him his NHL opportunity in 2024-25. He could be exactly the depth winger they need.