For Kyle Clifford‘s 20th birthday in January 2011, then-coach Terry Murray gave the young forward a somewhat unexpected present – he promoted him to the top line for that night’s game with the St. Louis Blues. Even though the rookie had only three NHL goals lifetime, he had been one of the more impressive Kings’ players over the first few months of that season.
People were already starting to compare him to a young Rich Tocchet and projecting him as a possible power forward five years down the road. His physical play and tenacious approach to the game was infections and alluring all at the same time.
Then, reality set in.
Two nights later vs. Edmonton he was back on the third line, where he pretty much remained for the balance of the year.
Heading into Apil, he had scored just three more goals.
A few weeks later the Kings qualified for the playoffs for just the second time since 2002.
In a six game series vs. San Jose, Clifford was LA’s most effective player on offense, as his three goals tied Justin Williams for the team lead and nobody posted more than his five points.
Still, last season he was used as a third and fourth line left wing. Even though he recorded fewer goals and points than he had the year prior, it’s probably not fair to call it a sophomore slump. Instead, look at is a the continued maturation of a young player.
During the lockout, he signed with the ECHL’s Ontario Reign and posted seven points (four goals, three assists) in nine games played.
Now just two games in to the NHL’s 48-game season, Clifford’s arguably been the Kings best forward and he’s had a hand in each of the team’s three goals. All while playing on the grind line with Colin Fraser.
“I’m faster, but he’s a little more skilled,” Clifford said, joking about his center. “So, he’s carried us.”
Rounding out the fourth line has been rookie Jordan Nolan, who played in Manchester during the lockout.
“I always have trouble keeping up with those guys,” said Fraser, followed by a big laugh. “I’m not the fastest guy in the world, so I let them do all the hard work and I just kind of hang out and take care of the D-zone.”
Fraser also thinks their familiarity is part of what’s brought early success this season.
“We all know what to expect from each other and what our role is on the team…I think as fourth liners we know what to do. And hopefully me, Noli and Cliffy can do some damage.”
Clifford agreed, adding – “We’re all grinders; we all know what our role is. We all have the identity that we’re big strong guys and can definitely unleash some hits out there.”
All valid points, but it’s their overall play that’s been impressive in the early going this season. Coach Darryl Sutter has even gone so far as to call them the team’s best line after the first two games vs. Chicago and Colorado.
But, with the top two lines not producing at all, Sutter is making a change.
Will his time with the top-6 last beyond tomorrow night’s game in Edmonton? Nobody knows for sure.
Regardless, Clifford’s outlook on the schedule ahead remains clear and simple.
“It’s just one game at a time,” he said. “It’s a short season, so one game at a time.”
Note to webmasters/reporters: When recapping news or interviews from this site please include a link to www.MayorsManor.com