Last week, the Buffalo Sabres signed Connor Clifton to a three-year deal, and the hard-hitting blueliner is just now coming into his own.
The Buffalo Sabres drew praise when they signed Connor Clifton last week, given the overall need he fills on the team. But the former Boston Bruin could just be coming into his own, even at age 28.
Clifton has only played in 232 NHL games, meaning he still has more mileage left on his skates than many 28-year-olds. He will also benefit from potentially playing alongside one of the NHL’s fastest-rising defensemen, and he also gives the Blue and Gold more edge at the position than they’ve had in years.
3 reasons Buffalo Sabres defenseman Connor Clifton will up his game
1 – Clifton is still relatively fresh
Connor Clifton only has 232 games of NHL experience, and it’s one reason I was glad to see him come to the Sabres. When divided by 82 games equates to just 2.8 full seasons of experience, it implies that Clifton is still coming into his own.
The bulk of those 232 games came in the previous two years, when he suited up for 138 of them, showing us that he held plenty of value for an ultra-talented team like the Boston Bruins. Now that he’s gained ample experience on an NHL blue line, Clifton is just now hitting his stride, even if it’s a little later in the game at age 28.
2 – Owen Power’s presence
At this point, I have Clifton pegged in to pair with Owen Power, a second-year, two-way player who is also still growing into his game. With Power’s two-way mentality paired with Clifton’s defense-first mindset, it creates an opportunity for two players to build chemistry and grow their respective games together.
While it remains to be seen whether these two will end up on the same pairing, doing so will only help both players thanks to their complementary styles. And this could, assuming Power signs a long-term deal and Clifton sticks around for a few more seasons following his three-year contract, create one of the better pairings in the NHL for a while.
3 – He will carve out a niche
We already talked about Owen Power’s two-way game, and Rasmus Dahlin is also capable of this. Mattias Samuelsson is a stay-at-home defenseman, but he doesn’t have the same type of hitter’s mentality – just 159 hits when averaged out to 82 games in 2022-23 (107/55 games), while Clifton had 218 across an 82-game landscape (208/78 games).
This will let Clifton become known as the Buffalo Sabres primary hitter, and if you look at his overall statistics, it’s a role he’s increasingly fallen into throughout his career. In 2021-22, he had 156 in 60 contests, equaling 213 over 82 games. In 2019-20, that number was 108 in 44, with 201 stretched across 82 games.
His numbers haven’t increased by much, but if this trend continues, you could see Clifton potentially eclipsing the 225 hits per 82-game mark. Which for the Buffalo Sabres, it’s something that hasn’t been part of their identity in ages.
Source: You can expect the hits to keep on coming from Connor Clifton in Buffalo by Kevin Paul Dupont, BostonGlobe.com