We all know that many of the players on the Boston Bruins are experiencing strong starts to the season under new head coach Jim Montgomery. Jake Debrusk, Nick Foligno, and Hampus Lindholm are among some of those who have had some shining moments this season.
But one player who hasn’t been talked about as much is Connor Clifton. With Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk missing time to start the season and Derek Forbort now on LTIR, Clifton had a chance on opening night to prove he could elevate his game and stick in the lineup. Lo and behold, he’s done exactly that. Clifton commented on his play early in the season in a Bruins online article:
"“I think we all stepped up, honestly. We were missing a lot of big pieces, especially to start the year. Good for us stepping up. We always talk about how we do it collectively. Not one guy is gonna pick up all Chuck’s minutes but as a group of six we pick up some here or there and we did great.”"
Clifton started the season with his usual partner Forbort, but with Forbort now on the shelf, Clifton has paired with Lindholm on the second pairing. The Lindholm-Clifton duo has been an effective unit, with Montgomery crediting Clifton’s hockey sense. He also gave him a new nickname, calling him Kenny Rogers.
We all knew about the defense aspect of Clifton’s game. He’s not afraid to body someone into the boards and throws his body around to hit people all game, but that had been the only part of his game until this season. It was a struggle to get Clifton on the scoreboard. Until this year.
Playing with Forbort and Lindholm this season, Clifton is up to two goals and six assists in 17 games, just two points off his previous career high of 10, set last season in 60 games. He’s contributed two goals and an assist in his last five games. Additionally, his 21:16 of average ice time per game ranks third on the team, behind only Lindholm and McAvoy. Clifton discussed his offense with the Bruins, saying the following:
"“I think my offensive skill set really hasn’t taken a step forward the last couple years and it’s finally doing so. It’s just about confidence. Confidence with the puck, not throwing it away and seeing your play and making it. When we score so many goals, you’re gonna get a couple more goals that way, too.”"
So, while Clifton didn’t get on the scoresheet in Thursday’s win against the Philadelphia Flyers, he still ended the game with 20:39 of ice time, logged three hits and one block, and contributed three shots on goal as well. Clifton’s future is looking up, and it started this season in Boston.