It might be easy to forget now, but Boston Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton played more games for the AHL’s Providence Bruins than the NHL club a season ago. With 53 tilts in the minors compared to 19 regular season games in Boston, Clifton was far from a full-time option a season ago.
What he did with his opportunity, especially in the playoffs, has given him a chance at a future no one saw coming. Left unsigned by the Arizona Coyotes, who drafted him, Clifton signed an AHL deal with Providence in 2017. He parlayed that into an NHL deal, and eventually an NHL job, by providing a steady presence for the P-Bruins.
He did the same in Boston when injury struck a season ago. Clifton was a steady, physical presence on the Bruins back end who helped a bit on the penalty kill. He also chipped in his first career goal and was a mainstay during the playoffs.
With John Moore and Kevan Miller expected to miss time, the path is clear for Clifton to be in the opening night lineup.
Clifton played in 53 AHL games with Providence. He accumulated 27 points, scoring six goals and tacking on 21 assists. He was arguably Providence’s best defender during the regular season. That earned him 19 NHL games with Boston when injuries struck the Bruins at various points in the season.
He managed just one assist in those 19 games, but his value was away from the puck. Clifton brought his strong work ethic, sound defensive play and physical style to the table. He fit in perfectly on the Bruins’ third pair, averaging 17:42 time-on-ice per game.
Possession wise, Clifton was terrific. He finished the regular season with a 56.9% Corsi For. That was +2.3 relative to his teammates. Most recalled players drag possession. Clifton pushed it.
In 18 playoff games, Clifton tacked on five points, two of which were goals, and emerged as a ‘cult hero’ of sorts among Bruin fans. “Cliffy Hockey” was born thanks to his strong play in the postseason.
Give Clifton a lot of credit. He has gone from unsigned prospect to AHL’er to NHL’er. It is not an easy path. Clifton will no doubt make the opening night roster, and he should be a consistent presence on the third pairing all season.
Clifton will see a rise in games played, but not to the extent people think. When Moore and Miller return, they’ll need game action. That will cut into Clifton’s totals for the coming season. Barring a trade, a timeshare at the bottom of the Bruin defense seems likely. Clifton will get his looks.
Clifton’s story is great. He’s a physical player who provides steady play on a nightly basis. That has a lot of value. Expect to see Clifton a lot more in 2019-20.
Official Prediction: 55 GP, 3 Goals, 5 Assists, 8 Points, +7, 16:23 TOI