The Buffalo Sabres are hoping defenseman Connor Clifton can take on an increased role during his first season in the Queen City. Could he do more?
A few days back, Harman Dayal of The Athletic listed 10 candidates they believed could enjoy a breakout season in 2023-24. Among them was one of the Buffalo Sabres newest blueliners, Connor Clifton, who they signed as an unrestricted free agent back in July.
And since he’s familiar with head coach Don Granato, it should surprise none of us if the edgy blueliner thrives in his new role early. So what was Dayal’s justification for putting the 28-year-old onto their shortlist? While they cited obvious obstacles for Clifton, such as a potential adjustment period when taking on a larger role, Dayal also said the following:
"“But Clifton should have the skating and puck-moving chops to handle more responsibility. It’s also worth noting that he played really well in a top pair role alongside Hampus Lindholm at the start of the year when Charlie McAvoy was hurt.” – via The Athletic"
Connor Clifton could enjoy a remarkable season with the Buffalo Sabres
We know Clifton brings a lot of high-octane energy to his game, and it’s something Granato looks for in most of his players, be it on the offensive or defensive side of the puck. If that weren’t the case, then Buffalo would be rolling with a different style that possibly wouldn’t involve so much scoring.
With Clifton’s ability to carry the puck well in transition with the skating to match, he can be more than productive in Granato’s system at the NHL level. Even if he’s probably not going to score much or even contribute helpers given the presence of Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power, creativity and the ability to draw penalties could make him an under-the-radar impact player for this Buffalo Sabres team.
Clifton will be arguably the most physical Sabre on the ice this season, and his overall ability to contribute on the penalty kill will help the Blue and Gold immensely. But if he takes his transition game and ability to create to the Queen City this year, then he could be poised for a breakout. Even if his eventual points total probably won’t reflect it, Clifton’s overall game will add another dynamic to the Sabres.
(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference, data provided by Andy-Rono [subscription])