Player evaluation: Clifford
This season: 81 games, 5 goals, 7 assists, minus-5 rating.
The good: It’s easy to forget that Clifford didn’t even turn 21 until halfway through this season. Listed at 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, Clifford isn’t a monster on the ice but he uses his size effectively and he’s fearless. Clifford isn’t afraid to stick his nose in a difficult situation in order to protect the puck or protect a teammate. Clifford’s crash-and-bang forechecking brought good energy to the fourth line, which is where he spent a bulk of the regular season as Colin Fraser’s left winger, and Clifford also has the offensive potential to move up into a third-line role if he can prove himself to be a more consistent goal-scorer.
The bad: Clifford played 81 regular-season games, but suffered a concussion in Game 1 of the first round, after a hit from Vancouver’s Byron Bitz, and played only two playoff games after that, as Brad Richardson (and then Simon Gagne) stepped in. Clifford was a surprise standout in the 2011 playoff series against San Jose, and it was widely predicted that he would take a big step forward this season, and perhaps be a 15-goal scorer. Instead, he scored five goals this season. Perhaps, as Darryl Sutter indicated, expectations were too high on Clifford this season, and he needs more time to grow into a role.
Going forward: Given the deep group of forwards expected to return to the Kings next season, there’s nothing guaranteed for Clifford. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Clifford made a big impact in the 2010 training camp when he fought for — and eventually won — a spot on the roster. Now, with left wingers such as Dustin Brown, Dustin Penner, Simon Gagne, Dwight King and Richardson on the roster, and fellow “tough guys’’ Kevin Westgarth and Jordan Nolan battling for spots, Clifford will have to show something in camp. The Kings love his attitude and work ethic and believe he has a bright future.