A skilled, puck-moving defenseman is something the Bruins organization has long coveted. Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy are a pair of examples that toned their puck-moving skills in Providence before making the jump to Boston. Connor Clifton, another offensive-minded defenseman, hopes to follow in their footsteps.
With three goals and ten assists in 30 games this season, Clifton fits the puck-moving mold. His skillset gives the P-Bruins a chance to score every time he touches the ice.
“I think it’s about timing,” Clifton said about his offensive prowess. “You don’t want to be running all over the ice. I’m a defenseman first, but there’s a time and place to join the rush.”
Clifton came to Providence after captaining the Quinnipiac Bobcats to a national championship game appearance in 2016. That year, the Matawan, New Jersey native enjoyed his most productive season, with 28 points (7 goals, 21 assists). Clifton additionally nabbed All-NCAA Tournament and Frozen Four honors after leading Quinnipiac in scoring with 12 points during the college hockey playoffs. He also earned accolades as the ECAC Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Following his four-year collegiate career, Clifton opted to not sign with the Coyotes, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft. He signed with Providence on Aug. 17, 2017, and registered four goals and nine assists in 54 games in his first full season with the P-Bruins. The Bruins organization re-signed Clifton to a two-year, two-way contract on May 3, 2018.
With a plethora of injuries to Boston’s blue-line, Clifton earned his first call-up on Nov. 16. He made an immediate mark in his debut by earning a takedown during a post-whistle scrap with Jason Spezza during the Bruins’ 1-0 loss to the Stars in Dallas that night.
Clifton didn’t tally a single point but registered a plus-two rating during his nine games in Boston.
“Obviously [you’re playing against] the best players in the world, but at the end of the day, it’s just hockey,” Clifton said of his NHL experience. “You’ve got to work together with your teammates. Coming in there were a lot of younger guys, even when I made my NHL debut the older guys and the not-so-older guys who had been playing for so long really made us feel comfortable.”
Clifton thought he’d return to his normal defensive roots after reporting back to Providence on Dec. 7. But injuries forced Jay Leach’s hand, thus putting Clifton in a unique spot recently.
For the first time in his professional hockey career, Clifton made the transition from defense to forward. The 23-year-old skated on the fourth line with Tanner Pond and Austin Fyten for two periods during Providence’s 5-1 home win over the Hartford Wolfpack on Jan. 6.
Though he only played forward for a short time, Clifton showcased his versatility.
“[Coach Leach] said he wanted to get more guys in the lineup,” Clifton said on moving up to forward. “And with Sherman not being in there the last two nights, Leach said ‘We’ll throw you up at forward for a few shifts,’ and I’m like ‘Ok, cool’. Showing off the versatility a bit. A few shifts turned out to be two periods.”
Those two periods against Hartford could go a long way in Clifton’s professional hockey development.
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