The Arizona Coyotes don't tend to draft many players out of the NCAA; since 2013, only three Coyotes' picks have gone on to NCAA careers. One of those three is about to play the biggest game of his life, as 2013 5th round pick Connor Clifton suits up for the Quinnipiac Bobcats in tonight's NCAA Men's Ice Hockey National Championship game against the University of North Dakota.
Clifton is a right-handed defenseman, which automatically bumps him up a couple of spots in Arizona's depth chart. When he was first selected out of the USHL in 2013, he had just come off a three goal, six assist, 90 PIM season. In his first year at Quinnipiac, it looked like a bruising game was all Clifton was capable of playing, as he scored just five goals, had four assists, and racked up 106 penalty minutes, which is really something considering a fighting major also comes with an automatic game misconduct.
Yet as his college career has continued, his offensive game has improved. In 2014-15, he recorded just five assists, but cut his penalty minutes in half. And this year, Clifton truly broke out; he scored seven times and contributed 20 assists to go along with just 40 PIMs. He's had one primary assist in Quinnipiac's run to the National Championship game, which came with a secondary assist to Connor's brother, Tim Clifton.
What is Clifton's ceiling? Early expectations were Clifton would evolve into a grinding lower pairing defenseman who could punish attacking players in his own end and lend the occasional helping hand on offense, not unlike Zbynek Michalek or Rostislav Klesla.
Clifton's relatively small size (5' 11", 195 pounds) may hamper his ability to truly reach the next level as his time in the NCAA comes to a close. But on the brink of an NCAA title, Connor Clifton is making a strong argument that he deserves another look from Coyotes' brass three years after his initial selection.
Puck drop for the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey National Championship Game is at 5 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on ESPN2.