Well, he scored on Dan Ellis... which tells us absolutely nothing.
Kyle Clifford has been a fan favorite for the Los Angeles Kings since his arrival in 2010. Now? I suppose he still is, but in his fourth year, Clifford is well past the honeymoon stage that comes with the arrival of an exciting young player. Maybe that's not fair to Clifford, especially since he's still 22 years old. It's especially not fair if you judge him as what he is: a bottom-six forward who can occasionally chip in on the stat sheet. The Kings would like to see a jump for Clifford, similar to the one he experienced last season (14 points in 48 games), but is that even a reasonable expectation?
Let's start with ten facts that could explain why Clifford came in at number 6 on the Top 25 Under 25 ballot.
- Kyle Clifford has only been a regular season scratch
oncetwice (after last night) since 2011.
- Challenged by new arrivals such as Dwight King and Jordan Nolan, he responded with a career year in 2013.
- He did this to Roman Polak.
- Possession numbers last year: passable! At least, better than the rest of the bottom-six. Except for Brad Richardson =(
- Once in a while, he does something that makes you wonder what his ceiling is.
- Scary faces.
- With the other left wing options in Los Angeles, Clifford looks better by comparison, right?
- He hits people.
- Ummmm... he was really good against San Jose in the 2011 playoffs!
- I'm sort of stretching at this point, but if you could describe Clifford's ideal role, you'd describe him as a third-liner or fourth-liner who scores once in a while, is capable of fighting and hitting without being John Scott, and can hold his own in the possession game. And Clifford does exactly that.
So why does this ranking seem high all of a sudden? After all, he is ranked ahead of exciting prospects such as Linden Vey and Valentin Zykov. And he is ranked well ahead of Dwight King and Jordan Nolan, who have contributed just as much as Clifford has so far this season. His playoff performance (though injured) triggered some alarm bells. And early in 2013-14, Clifford is struggling a bit, and it's threatening his place in the lineup. He needs to be better.
There are positive signs, though. Clifford's shot differential numbers are decent, though playing against weaker competition has helped. He's been consistently "pretty good" by the eye test. Sutter has used him on both the power play and the penalty kill, though his effectiveness in those areas can't really be judged. And he's done all of this in limited ice time, which is a bad thing (why isn't he getting on the ice?) and a good thing (more ice time should mean more production).
... I guess all of those things can (and by some, will) be seen as signs that Clifford isn't cut out for a bigger role with the Kings. But at the same time, he's 22. Would you, right now, trade him for anyone beneath him on the countdown? Maybe a rebuilding team would, but for the Kings, he's the right player in the right role; he just has to prove it. If he doesn't, he ain't gonna be number 6 in the 2014 Top 25 Under 25.