Boston Bruins Countdown to Camp: Connor Clifton
From now until the beginning of training camp, Boston Hockey Now is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2022-23 Boston Bruins. Today’s player: Connor Clifton.
Social Media handles: Twitter (@connorcliff28) Instagram (@connorcliff28)
What Happened Last Year: Clifton, 27, has been a useful member of Boston’s back end over the last few seasons settling into a physical, bottom-pairing defenseman role when used regularly, and a player that can be a very good seventh defensemen if deployed that way. Last season Clifton played a career-high 60 games, matched his career high with two goals and reached double-digits in points for the first time in his NHL career.
Clifton was down almost two minutes per game from the prior season when he was in the lineup, and admittedly it felt like he was taking less risks offensively with the puck while playing a safe game along the blue line. To that end, Clifton had just two points after the first five months of last season before exploding for a goal and six points during the month of March.
He did have a few highlights whether it was occasionally dropping the gloves when called upon in the last few years or scoring a playoff goal in a Game 5 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes while playing in every game of the first round series.
Connor Clifton Fights Alex Formenton#NHL #NHLBruins #Hockey #HockeyFights #GoSensGo pic.twitter.com/JGSlkT5J2w
— Christian Jason (@DosageSport) November 10, 2021
The bottom line with Clifton last season was that he’s paid to be a 6/7 defenseman on the Boston Bruins with a $1 million cap hit, and he performed that role and then some while suiting up for 60 games last season. On a positive note, Clifton seemed to really gel with Derek Forbort as a physical, grinding bottom defensemen pair toward the end of last season and a least laid the groundwork for that combo working again this year.
Questions To Be Answered This Season: With Clifton, the question becomes whether a new Boston Bruins coaching staff and some new voices can bring out something different in the defenseman’s game. Can Clifton become even more of a physical factor on the back end as a 5-foot-11, 175-pound defenseman built to be more puck-mover than bruiser?
Or can Clifton tap into more offensive production as a player that has flashed those skills from time-to-time over the years, but has made enough mistakes that slick puck-moving and skilled offensive plays are going to be the exception rather than the rule for him?
Certainly both Clifton and the team would like to see more of the guy that was playing confident, productive hockey over the second half of last season.
It’s a big season for Clifton entering the final year of his contract with the Boston Bruins and his performance this year will go a long way toward determining his long-term future in Boston, and across the NHL.
In Their Words: “It was not a great start. It took me about 40 games to get going, and that’s not a great case. But I liked how I finished, and I thought I had a good playoff. I had my struggles, and I didn’t do a good job battling through, but I finally did and was playing my best hockey at the end of the year. That’s what you want.” –Connor Clifton at Boston Bruins breakup day about how last season broke down for him.
Overall Outlook: Clifton has settled into a semi-regular role with the Boston Bruins over the last few seasons, but never quite seized a top-6 defenseman role last year while given a chance to play a career-high 60 games thanks to injuries to other blueliners.
The D-man will be shouldering a bigger workload to start this season with Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk both expected to miss the season’s first couple of months, so he’ll be given another golden chance to show any developments to his game. But the feeling is that once everybody is healthy that the versatile Clifton will settle into a seventh defensemen role battling it out with players like Derek Forbort and Jakub Zboril for playing time.
The question for Clifton headed into this season is whether his future remains in Boston after this coming season and whether he can continue to develop at a defenseman position where players tend to bloom a little later in their NHL careers.