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Grade the Players: Connor Clifton continues to etch out his role

Playing in 12 more games than 2018-19, Clifton searches for a consistent role on the Bruins blueline

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Carolina Hurricanes Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B-

The man affectionately known as ‘Cliffy Hockey’ carved out a much larger role in his sophomore campaign.

Unfortunately, he suffered an upper-body injury in a December 29 game versus the Buffalo Sabres, resulting in the New Jersey native only playing in 31 games during the regular season. He returned to play in eight postseason games, scoring a goal and contributing two assists. In fact, he scored one more point in the postseason than he did in the regular season, despite playing almost four times the games in the regular season.

Clifton’s game is noticeable for his physicality and speed. An unassuming 5’11”, 175 lb frame lends itself to a bulldozer on the backend. Clifton has never been one afraid to throw his weight around, routinely attempting to staple opponents to the TD Garden boards.

Clifton’s footspeed helps separate him from his competition. Once he gets going downhill, Clifton’s flight of foot stands out.

Despite his lack of points, Clifton makes a concerted effort to join the rush. Charlie McAvoy skates the puck through the neutral zone from time to time, but Clifton prefers to fill the lane and provide support.

In the clip above, Clifton finds Joakim Nordstrom on a broken breakout and fills the lane, as both the Bruins and Hurricanes find themselves in awkward positions on the ice. Clifton beats the unsuspecting winger down the ice, creating an offensive opportunity in the process.

Although ultimately unsuccessful, Clifton’s habit of assisting the forwards up the ice creates another layer of pressure and more passing lanes, while dragging the opposition out of their defensive shape.

Clifton’s performance in the playoffs was conducive to a high percentage of shots and scoring chances in favor of the Bruins, vastly improved from his regular season numbers.

His shots-for percentage jumped from 45.82% to 57.14% and scoring-chances-for percentage shot up from 44.98% to 57.00%.

If Clifton can keep producing analytic numbers the way he did in the playoffs, he would cement his place as an above value third pairing defenseman and warrant himself worthy of increased opportunities.

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