By: Will Montanez | Follow me on Twitter @Willfro3
Connor Clifton, a right-shot defenseman for the Boston Bruins was assigned to their AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, for the purposes of a conditioning stint on February 16, 2020. Clifton has been out of the line-up since he exited a December 29, 2019 game against the Buffalo Sabres and was subsequently placed on the injured reserve list on January 3, 2020. Clifton resumed full-contact practice with the varsity squad on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. The trip to Providence most likely represents an opportunity for Clifton to shake off the rust and also allows the Bruins salary cap and roster flexibility, as they are currently at the maximum number of skaters allowed.
During this season, Clifton has mostly found himself on the bottom pair of the B’s D-corps with Matt Grzelcyk and serving as an occasional healthy scratch. While participating in 30 games he has accumulated two goals, 12 PIMS, 32 blocked shots, and 85 hits in 14:07 of average ice time per game (95.6% of which was spent five-on-five). He has been known to play the game with an air of recklessness which gave rise to the concept of “Cliffy Hockey.” Compounded by his lack of production, Clifton’s possession metrics do not shine brightly.
Clifton has been attributed a Relative Fenwick-For Percentage (a measure of unblocked shots for and unblocked shots against) of -3.9, placing him at the bottom of the B’s defensive heap and implying that when he’s on the ice Tuukka Rask or Jaroslav Halak are more likely to see pucks headed their way than with any other D-man on the ice. His penchant for getting attempted shots through to opposing nets also ranks the worst among regular defense-men with a 38.5% shots through percentage.
Connor Clifton broke into the League during the 2018-2019 and featured in 19 of the Bruin’s regular-season games as well as 18 of their post-season games en route to the Stanley Cup Finals. While he registered a lone assist during the regular season, Clifton’s offensive contributions spiked a bit in the playoffs as he put up five points, including his first career NHL goal during the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes.
While Clifton may have been surpassed on the depth chart by young buck Jeremey Lauzon and ranks worse across the board against sixth/seventh options like John Moore, his handedness and aggressive style still make him an attractive alternative for Bruce Cassidy to send on to the ice, in spite of his unwillingness to play Clifton on special teams. Boston’s defensive depth has been tested in the recent past so it’s doubtful that the men behind the bench and management are complaining about the decisions that must be made to accommodate the plethora of blue-liners vying for ice time. Clifton, meanwhile, hopes to fight his way back into a roster spot and add to the internal competition which should help keep the B’s back-end sharp.