2009-10: Connor Clifton played for Christian Brothers Academy in New Jersey as a freshman and joined his older brother Tim Clifton with the New Jersey Hitmen in the Empire Junior Hockey League. In 36 games for the Hitmen, including 3 playoff games, he scored 2 goals with 10 assists and had 61 penalty minutes.
2010-11: Clifton gave up high school hockey to focus on juniors with the Hitmen. In 36 regular season games he scored 4 goals with 13 assists and had 95 penalty minutes. He skated in seven playoff games and scored 2 goals with 2 assists and had 10 penalty minutes.
2011-12: Clifton began the year with the Hitmen’s EJHL and Empire League teams and joined the USA National Team Development program in mid-season – skating for the NDTP’s U17 team. He scored 1 goal with 14 assists in 34 EJHL games, racking up 61 penalty minutes and in four Empire League games had 1 assist and 26 penalty minutes. Clifton played 12 games for the NTDP U17 team and scored 1 goal with 1 assist and had 24 penalty minutes. His one goal was a game-winner, coming in overtime against the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms. Clifton represented the USA in a pair of U17 tournaments. In November 2011 he and his brother Tim committed to playing college hockey at Quinnipiac in 2013-14.
2012-13: Clifton was named to the USA’s U18 team for the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in August and then joined the National Team Development Program on a full-time basis – skating for the NTDP’s U18 team during the season and winning a silver medal at the 2013 U18 World Junior Championship. He scored 8 goals with 15 assists in 66 games. Clifton’s 114 penalty minutes were second-most on the team behind Michael McCarron (182). He played a key role for the U18 team in Sochi, logging huge amounts of ice time, particularly in key situations. In seven games he was -3 with 1 goal and 2 penalty minutes. Clifton was selected by Peterborough in the 4th round (75th overall) of the 2013 OHL Priority Draft. He was ranked 88th amongst North American skaters in Central Scouting’s final rankings and was selected by Phoenix in the fifth round (133rd overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft.
While Clifton is undersized at 5’11”, he received plenty of looks with the USNTDP coming up through the junior ranks. He is a steady blueliner with a good first pass and a pretty high hockey IQ. His size is definitely a concern but he has not shown too much of a shyness towards the physical side of the game. He is a project player, but there are plenty of tools to work with.
Clifton is a project. He will have a tough go of things trying to make the pros given his size but it is obviously not impossible. He is committed to one of the current top-ranked programs in the nation with Quinnipiac of the NCAA, so that is definitely a good start for his development.