EL SEGUNDO, CA — When the Los Angeles Kings selected left wing Kyle Clifford in the second round (35th overall) of the 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft, it was because he was able to contribute offensively as well as play a tough, physical game and drop the gloves when needed.
The 6-2, 208-pound native of Ayr, Ontario scored just one goal with 14 assists for 15 points in 66 games in the 2007-08 season with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League (his first season in the OHL) while racking up 83 penalty minutes.
Clifford, 19, improved in a big way after that, scoring 16 goals and adding twelve assists for 28 points with 133 penalty minutes in sixty games in 2008-09, and topping that in 2009-10 with 28 goals and 29 assists for 57 points with 111 penalty minutes.
Clifford’s play with the Colts last season earned him a call-up to the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate) on an amateur tryout agreement for the AHL playoffs once the Colts’ season was over. But, as Clifford discovered, having a bit of a scoring touch in Canadian junior hockey does not necessarily translate to higher levels.
Indeed, Clifford failed to score in seven playoff games, although he did record two assists with twelve penalty minutes and even spent some time on the Monarchs’ top line with Kings’ forward prospects Andrei Loktionov and Justin Azevedo.
“I was able to play with a couple of skilled guys like that,” said Clifford. “I just stuck to my game, mixed it up a little bit, threw some checks and tried to make a little bit of room for them.”
Despite his efforts, the Monarchs were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals by the eventual Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears.
“You have to fight for every inch, especially at that high level, Clifford stressed. “It was a great group of guys. We really showed well the whole playoff run there—we were the underdogs for most of it. I felt like we put in a great effort against the Hershey Bears. It was a little disappointing, the way it ended, but I thought we really pulled through.”
Clifford’s seven-game stint in the AHL served to whet his appetite for more, but was also a dose of reality. Indeed, although he was able to score goals in the OHL, he has a lot to work on before he can be more than a tough, checking forward at higher levels.
“I think my role’s going to change when I do make the jump one day,” he noted. “It’s going to start off with me just plugging away, like I did in junior [hockey].”
“I scored one goal my first year in junior,” he added. “I just kept building on everything I could the last three years. I was fortunate to add to my game every year and take it one step at a time.”
The Kings’ development staff has been working with Clifford to keep him on the right path.
“Part of it was my skill game—rounding it out,” Clifford explained. “Don’t stick to being a one-dimensional player. Last year, I was able to put up a few points so I’m just trying to build on it by working with [the Kings’ Development staff].”
“They really helped me along,” Clifford elaborated. “I really like working with those guys and they definitely helped me take some steps moving forward.”
This summer, like the rest of the Kings’ young prospects, Clifford has an off-season training regimen to follow.
“I’m a pretty big guy, but my small muscle groups need to be worked on—shoulders, legs, so I can stay away from injuries,” he said.
At the Kings’ Development Camp in June, Clifford showed the intensity and emotional play that got the Kings’ attention prior to their selecting him in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
During one of the scrimmages, Clifford got into a brief shoving match with defenseman prospect Andrew Campbell in front of the net, with both players exchanging shoves and cross-checks.
The incident ended quickly, but it was typical Kyle Clifford.
“Everybody’s coming in with a little bit of excitement,” he shrugged. “We were just horsing around a little bit—a couple of hacks here and there. It was nothing that escalated into any fisticuffs or anything like that.”
Clifford probably needs to spend at least one season in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL. But the toughness, intensity and emotion he brings to the game is something the Kings have lacked in recent years and would be an asset going forward.
Indeed, given that there are holes in the Kings’ lineup as of this writing, Clifford has a opportunity to make the jump to the NHL level in the coming season, and he is working towards that end.
“It’s every kid’s dream to play in the NHL, so why not now?”
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