In his first call up, Connor Clifton existed. He was there, not doing much, looking like a rookie or AHLer, and generally creating no real positive or negative buzz around himself. He was not worth your time nor anyone’s at that point, and I don’t think he made much of an impression on the coaching staff, because they sent him down after a couple of games, and we didn’t think much of that.
Then Connor Clifton honed his craft in the AHL, where he became beloved by his teammates, and Kenny Agostino gave him the nickname that describes perfectly what he’d become known for:
Cliffy Hockey. And then he got called up again to show us what that meant.
What followed was a player who almost felt like he’d gotten six years of experience in six months. Like he’d played for an NHL team for an entire year and we never noticed. The difference is stark, is what I’m trying to get at.
Clifton’s game could best be described as “punching waaaaaay above his weight class”, because in spite of his seemingly slight 5’11 frame, Cliffy Hockey seemingly never gave up on any play, nor did he shy away from jumping up into the play when called upon. Physicality was also no real issue for Clifton, as he was more than willing to make a well-timed hit to dislodge the puck from an oncoming player, and usually able to turn with the puck carrier and completely halt their momentum by putting that surprising strength to great use.
Which is not to say physicality was his biggest strength, but it certainly helped him with the other thing he was great at: Creating zone exits. Clifton’s acceleration is quite impressive, and his ability to read his forwards and get them up-ice with a well timed pass. He exemplified the best version of a modern defenseman playing his minutes. And his fancystats reflected it; he was better than almost everybody on the Bruins at getting shot attempts forward.
Connor Clifton lays a solid hit on Sammy Blais.— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) June 7, 2019
Blais looks to return the favor, but ... oops. pic.twitter.com/UL8a10IX0b
Connor Clifton goes boom on Boone Jenner: pic.twitter.com/t7gIazF9f8— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) May 6, 2019
They didn’t show a replay of it so this is the best shot but what a hit by Connor Clifton after passing the puck pic.twitter.com/Zc7KizqWWQ— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) May 1, 2019
Indeed, if there was any negatives to his brief time as a Bruin in the regular season, it was that he only played a paltry number of games as this version of himself.
In the Playoffs:
Clifton had a fun playoffs. More big hits, goals happened, and usually at key points. He also did need some adjustments in facing the faster teams, but acclimated perfectly fine by the SCF. That said, he did struggle, and was replaced occasionally after games where he looked a bit overwhelmed. A year in the NHL might make that decision a little harder come next playoffs.
Aggregated Player Rating: 7/10
Clifton’s night-and-day season made everyone take notice. And hopefully during training camp he puts on the performance of his life to end up playing game one in October.