Kyle Clifford is an awfully accurate personification of the Kings’ ethos and personality.
The 23-year-old is humble and a team-first player who plays an honest, north-south game. He physical. He’s young.
He also set a career-low in points per game a year after a promising step forward in 2012-13 that included seven goals and 14 points while playing in all 48 games during the lockout-shortened season. In 71 games last year, he totaled three goals and eight points.
On the surface, there didn’t appear to be anything missing from Clifford’s game; he simply wasn’t producing. And with the news that Rich Hammond broke today that he played through a broken wrist suffered in Game 1 against the New York Rangers – keep in mind he posted two points that game as part of a four-points-in-five-games effort in the Final that culminated with an assist on Alec Martinez’s cup-clinching goal – perhaps any lack of production by a checking line player seems a bit trite.
But despite Clifford’s rugged role, and despite his ability to play through injury, there is the desire that the fifth-year player find his way onto the scoresheet more regularly in 2014-15.
“It makes a difference of four or five minutes a game, which is seven or eight shifts,” Darryl Sutter said. “I mean, if you do it in a progression standpoint, we expected more last year out of Cliffy, for sure.”
Though the forward went from December 14 to March 9 without recording a point, Clifford pinpoints to an earlier part of the season as a factor in his lack of production.
“I think it started off slow,” Clifford said. “Offensively, everybody wants to contribute. That’s an area I can definitely improve on this year.”
With the July 1 signing of Adam Cracknell, and the emergence of Andy Andreoff, there is competition for minutes amongst the club’s valuable role players. It hasn’t really heated up yet – “They’ve each played about 15 minutes,” Darryl Sutter said as a reminder – but with all checking line players having to clear waivers if they were to be sent to Manchester, at least one player from a group of Clifford, Nolan, Cracknell, Andreoff and Trevor Lewis will not open the year with the Kings. Lewis, who re-signed for two additional seasons last year, is almost certainly safe. But there’s a nonzero chance that one of the other players could be traded or subjected to waivers.
“I think with a team like ours, there are always kids coming up,” Jordan Nolan said. “We draft so well, and there’s always such a big competition getting in and out of the lineup. There are so many guys that can move up a line or move down a line, and with our team, you always have to keep on your toes, so it’s a good competition.”
As Sutter noted, the evaluation process of returning players hasn’t truly began in earnest.
“I’m not even starting to evaluate our group from last year until after this weekend,” Sutter said. “That’s when we’ll see more of the continuity in our lineup, and hopefully some injured guys are closer, and if we don’t think they’re ready to start the season, [then] who we’re going to put in there for them. Right now we’re giving everybody an opportunity basically in the organization to play. But after this weekend, we won’t. We’ll start setting up for the start of the season.”
Even though Clifford has two Stanley Cup rings, there’s still the effort to continue to fine tune his own game and improve his all-around attributes.
“You want to show that you’re improving, that you’re getting better. Nothing’s ever guaranteed,” he said. “We’ve got a deep lineup, so we’re all fighting for ice time, and we all want to push each other to get better, too.”