Player evaluation: Clifford
This season: 76 games, 7 goals, 7 assists, 141 penalty minutes, 9:30 average ice time.
The good: Clifford showed up to training camp in outstanding shape. He made the roster after sweating out final cuts. He stayed in the NHL rather than return to junior. He transitioned from a fourth-line winger to a third-line winger (and sometimes more). He scored three goals in six playoff games. Notice a trend here? The longer the season went, the better things went for Clifford. He proved to be a tireless worker, a respected teammate and a good student of the game, and made more of an impact in his rookie season than most team followers believed possible. His willingness to drop the gloves only enhanced an already strong reputation.
The bad: Clifford performed his role very well. His biggest challenge was staying on the ice. Clifford’s all-out, flailing-fist fighting style led him to get caught flush in two late-season fights, one of which sidelined him for two games. Going forward, Clifford will have to learn to defend himself a bit better. His ability shows him to be more than a fourth-line grinder, and the Kings certainly don’t want his seasons (or career) shortened by these types of injuries. Clifford also went through a bit of a midseason dip, but that’s very easy to understand for a young rookie.
Going forward: How high is Clifford’s ceiling? Is he a third-line player? A 20-goal scorer? He’s still a work in progress. Clifford was one of the Kings’ top scoring threats in the playoffs, and that’s not a role he should have to fill. His secondary scoring should be a bonus, not a requirement. Clifford’s immediate challenge will be to avoid the type of downturn that seemed to follow Wayne Simmonds this season. If Clifford keeps his feet moving and keeps hitting opponents, his game will be just fine.