David Liffiton was traded to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline last season from the Colorado Avalanche, who had drafted him in the second round in 2003. Liffiton signed a rookie contract over the summer to play pro instead of going back to Plymouth of the OHL for his overage year.
The 6’3 210-pound defenseman was assigned to the affiliate ECHL Charlotte Checkers to start the 2004-05 season, but was recalled to the AHL Hartford Wolfpack after 11 games. He went on to play 33 with Hartford, tallying just one assist and was –4 with 74 penalty minutes. Back in Charlotte now, in 13 total games, he has two assists and is +1 with 10 penalty minutes. He’s now paired up with fellow Rangers prospect Rory Rawlyk.
Liffiton, who turned 20 on October 18th, is the youngest player currently playing in the ECHL. Fellow OHL alumnus Kamil Kreps is the only player younger than Liffiton to have played in the league this season (12 games), but is now back in San Antonio.
Hockey’s Future spoke to Liffiton following the Charlotte Checkers 6-4 loss to the Gwinnett Gladiators on Saturday.
HF: Can you talk about how your season has gone, all the ups and downs?
DL: I started off the year in Hartford, training camp and the first game I was a healthy scratch, so I had a meeting with management and they told me it would be best for my development to come down here to Charlotte and got some games in. Then in November I got called up with (Fedor) Tyutin and (Maxim) Kondratiev went to Russia. I thought I had a pretty good start, first few games, I was starting to come along, catch my groove. It’s a big transition. The coaching staff up there has really helped me a lot, fine-tuning things. And then I separated my shoulder, a grade 3. So that came at kind of a bad time, I was just starting to find my place on the team. I was out for almost two months. And then I came back and it was a little bit shaky coming back, just getting back into things, especially up there after not playing for two months. It was pretty tough. I started to come along, some games were better than others but I just kept with it. I was playing a pretty physical role, trying to contribute, some fights here and there, and just trying to be solid defensively. The coaching staff again, like Ryan McGill, Nicky Fotiu, really helped me out with a lot of things being a young defenseman in that league. It’s amazing when you look on video how many little things there are that you could be doing differently. They really helped me with that. Then at the trade deadline, we moved for (veteran Joel) Bouchard there, and I’m not on the playoff roster so I’m a spare, “player in residence” I guess. Right now we’re healthy up there, first time all year really, so they sent me down here again to get some games in like the start of the season.
HF: What do you think was the biggest adjustment you had to make in your game moving from junior to pro?
DL: To be honest with you, the style of game I played in junior was a stay at home defenseman and I think a lot of guys usually have to find a more defensive game in pro. But I don’t think so much that I had to change my style of game I play, I think it’s just learning all the systems and all the little things. At that level, the littlest things result in a goal or a good chance against. There’s not a whole lot, if any, room for error. So I think just fine-tuning everything. I’ve shortened up my stick, Nicky Fotiu told me to do that and it’s helped my puckhandling a little bit. I think they want me to start being a little bit more offensive, try to make plays instead of just making that set play all the time. That’s something I’ve been working on.
HF: What do you think was the most challenging thing about moving to pro for you? Was there not anything you struggled with?
DL: It was tough because it’s really my first year away from home too. I had played away from home, but I was 30 minutes away during junior, I live in Windsor. When things weren’t going well, I had the support of my friends and family to pick me back up. And this year, a few times I kind of got down on myself a bit and didn’t have that support. Just being away from home for the first year has been a big change.
HF: Have you been pretty satisfied with your play overall though?
DL: I think I’ve had games in the A that I’ve been real happy with, but I need to find I think more consistency. That’s the biggest thing. Just be on top of my game every shift and like I said, just keep fine-tuning all the little things, positional play.
HF: You were saying the Hartford coaching staff gave you good feedback, but have you gotten any from the Rangers as well, I know they’ve been around.
DL: That’s about it. They think my physical play is good, I’ve been playing tough. Physically I think I’ve handled myself pretty good this year for a rookie. Just not always chipping pucks off the glass and trying to find the open man. I think if there’s any one thing, that would be the biggest.
HF: Did you realize you’re the youngest player in the ECHL right now?
DL: Really? I wasn’t aware of that (laughs). I knew I was up there in the A, but there were a few guys younger than me.
HF: Who’s younger than you in the A?
DL: I think (Patrice) Bergeron from Providence and I’m pretty sure (Marc-Andre) Fleury is a month younger than me. There might be one or two more guys but I don’t think there’s too many.
HF: What do you think about being the youngest player?
DL: Oh, I mean, I guess it’s a bit of a complement to be playing pro at a young age like this. But I don’t feel like I’m the youngest guy in the league.
HF: When you were little, how did you get started on defense, was it something a coach thought you were suited for or is it something you wanted to play?
DL: Actually I played forward up until…well, I didn’t play travel until I was about 12 years old. And the travel team that year was short a D, or he quit or something. So I went in and I played D that year and ever since then I’ve been a D.
HF: So you liked it right away?
DL: Yeah. I was more offensive when I was younger because I had just played forward, but I think as I got older, I kind of found my role.
HF: You’re more cautious now?
DL: Yeah, coming up through junior that’s the style of play they wanted me to play. I think they saw that that’s the style I’ll probably play at the pro level, so that’s a good thing I guess.
HF: You’re playing partnered up with Rawlyk right now, how’s that working out?
DL: I’ve played with him last night and tonight. I think it’s a good match, Rory is more offensive and I can kind of stay back for him. Yeah, I think we’re working well together, I like playing with him.
HF: You said you’re a “player in residence” in Hartford, so all your stuff is still up there?
DL: Yeah, I got the news Thursday that I was coming down after practice and I just packed a suitcase. If there’s an injury or whatnot I’ll be going back up.
HF: So you’re mentally preparing to be with Charlotte for the playoffs then?
DL: The way I look at it, when I’m up there I’m not worried about what’s going on in Charlotte, and now that I’m in Charlotte, that has to be my mindset. Just play the best I can here and try to help out my team here to win games. We’re only three games away from the playoffs so we’re getting prepared for that.
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