Clifford jumps the line, will get top-6 minutes on Thursday

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.

At practice today he put Clifford up on the second line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.

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.”

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Comments

  1. Doughty99 says:

    Congrats, Colonel! Well deserved, big fella.

  2. I’m happy for his promotion but at the same time it’s a little unfair to Penner. He wasn’t the only one who sucked big time. It seems his mistakes have been always magnified somehow.

  3. Kostamojen says:

    I actually thought Penner had a pretty good Game 1. He was skating hard and 3 shots on goal. But, he took some really stupid penalties in Game 2.

Trackbacks

  1. […] skating alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. It’s yet to be confirmed whether or not Clifford steps into a top-six role for the Kings’ third game of the season Thursday […]

  2. […] [UPDATE – Clifford has been bumped up, now likely to get a top-6 role vs. Edmonton on Thursday – story here] […]

  3. […] Playing on a line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, Gagne struggled in the Kings’ first game, recording zero shots and tallying a minus-3.  He was then benched in Denver on Tuesday and if he plays tonight, he’ll most likely be on the fourth line with Colin Fraser and Jordan Nolan. His playing status at the moment isn’t really being determined by health concerns, but more on coach Darryl Sutter‘s unhappiness with the play of several of his left wings. At least to start the game vs Edmonton, Kyle Clifford is expected to be on the second line with Richards and Carter – story here. […]