The Onset of Cal Clutterbuck

Cal Clutterbuck has always done a few things really well. The Minnesota Wild winger owns the NHL’s single season hit record with 356 body checks 2008-09, and he’s always been considered among the league’s most effective “pests”. Clutterbuck tied his previous best 21-points and surpassed his career high in goals of 13 from 2009-10 early in the third period of Minnesota’s 6-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, putting himself on pace for a total somewhere in the mid-20s. Clutterbuck’s scoring upside has never been a secret, he twice scored 35-goals in the OHL while playing on Oshawa Generals’ teams with offensive stars like John Tavares and Michael Del Zotto – but the 23-year old’s emergence as a two-way threat this season is still surprising considering his wrecking ball style and reputation as more of an agitator.

It’s not just in the goal column where Clutterbuck shows a marked improvement either, in fact, Clutterbuck’s “pest” numbers are considerably down when compared to previous seasons while his offensive and possession stats are on the rise. Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher signed the fan favourite to a three-year extension late last season that pays him $1.4 million per year, and it appears to have been a suave decision by the then first-year GM as Cal Clutterbuck is becoming a complete player.

Clutterbuck’s development curve has been fairly natural over his first three seasons, but he’s become noticeably more effective with increased responsibility and a bump of nearly a minute and a half in TOI with 15:46 in 2010-11. A look at Clutterbuck’s penalty numbers shows that he’s not as prolific at drawing penalties as he was in his first two seasons – he’s down to 1.2 penalties drawn per 60 minutes from 1.8 in 09-10 and a super pest-like 2.8 in his rookie season of 2008-09. A big reason for the slip in those stats can be contributed to the fact that Clutterbuck is seeing more ice time on scoring lines with players such as Martin Havlat and Matt Cullen. The increased ice time and enhanced role have paid dividends with Clutterbuck currently boasting a career best shooting percentage of 12.3% and an improved Corsi rating of 1.3.

Even if advanced statistics aren’t your thing, it’s hard to disagree with what they’re proving with Cal Clutterbuck. Only defenceman Clayton Stoner has a better +-ON/60 among his Wild teammates, and he’s still far and away the league’s leading hitter with 214. Clutterbuck’s play in all three zones is a big reason why Minnesota is winners of three straight games and holding an impressive record of 7-3 over their last ten contests, and now they sit just a single point behind Chicago and Colorado for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Oh, and although his penalty metrics are down there’s little debate that Clutterbuck has become less effective at getting under his opponents’ skin. Just look back to the Wild’s win over the Avalanche in December the winger’s post-game comments that prompted Adrian Dater of the Denver Post to call Clutterbuck “a cowardly hockey player” after he refused to engage in a fight with Adam Foote.

Clutterbuck is well known for his bruising style, and he’s obviously not a player that’s going to shy away from slamming into an opponent. He’s certainly not a player with a reputation for throwing dirty hits, though. So he doesn’t fight much? As evidenced by the development of his scoring prowess, it’s in his best interest to stay on the ice and help his team anyway. With only seven assists thus far it’s evident that Clutterbuck’s playmaking ability may not be one of his strong suits, but hey – a guy can’t do everything. Cal Clutterbuck, for his efforts, is doing most things very well.

Much thanks to BehindTheNet and Hockey-Reference for statistical data