Two weeks into the season, it was clear as to where things were heading with the Kings’ two junior-eligible players. Brayden Schenn had played in six of the first seven games and earned solid reviews. Kyle Clifford had been a healthy scratch in four of the first seven games and had averaged only slightly more than seven minutes of ice time per game, in a fourth-line role. It seemed safe to bet that, before long, Clifford would return to junior hockey and Schenn might stay.
Fortunes can turn quickly, though. Schenn is headed back to his junior team, and not only is Clifford still around, but he has been elevated to a third-line role and is an every-game player. Today, Terry Murray talked about Clifford’s development and the thought that Clifford might have “grown on” the coaching staff early in the season…
MURRAY: “Clifford, he did grow on us. His physicality probably attracted our attention. He’s a big, strong man, and he is a man. A 19-year-old, but he’s a man physically. He’s so powerful, in all the test results and just watching him working out, on the off-ice part of it. It’s pretty incredible how powerful he is. And that translated into strong play on the ice, getting in on the forecheck, getting hits. We just saw a role that he would fall into, and as we progressed through the early part of the season, working with him on the ice, reviewing on the video, he just grasped onto everything that was being talked about. Asking questions, very curious about `what if this, what if that.’ His game has grown immensely, I think, since the start of the training camp. He has earned the right to be where he is.
“I think he has played very effectively for us. He’s on the left side with Handzus recently, and he has become an effective player with composure with the puck, skating, carrying, making plays, seeing the ice, getting the puck in and getting a forecheck going. Is that where he should be, throughout the rest of the year? I can’t answer that, but he certainly has impressed all of us, as a coaching staff, and I like what I’m seeing.”
Question: Ideally, where would you have him play?
MURRAY: “We had him on the fourth line, left side, and you end up, in that scenario, where you have three young guys, three inexperienced guys, playing together. As you come out of some special teams, as you come out of some power plays and you come back with those younger guys, they end up against, probably, the top lines of the opponent. And that’s where that mismatch happens. They get exposed. Their minuses start to pile up and, as a coach, you lose confidence in a young guy or then you decide to make a change and put him with a more veteran player and let him build his game, and put a more veteran guy on that other line, which I have with Richie [Brad Richardson]. So, it works out better for the flow of the game, and to be able to match up in those post-special teams situations.”