Connor Clifton looks back on turbulent beginnings in NHL before finding home with Bruins

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By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Connor Clifton is an easy Bruin to like. Mainly because he's had to compete to earn everything he's gotten in his young NHL career, culminating early on with a three-year extension to stay in Boston.

Clifton surprised many with his solid play on the Bruins' third defensive pairing in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His performance ostensibly went a long way toward Don Sweeney deciding he wanted to lock the 23-year-old up for three more years beyond 2019-20, the final year of his entry-level contract with the Bruins.

And that ELC was Clifton's first - despite the fact that he was actually drafted by the Coyotes, 133rd overall in the fifth round of the 2013 class. But Arizona fired GM Don Maloney in 2016 as part of major changes in their front office, and the way Clifton describes it, they soured on him. Their organizational changes played a role in Clifton staying the full four years at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

"At the end of the day I think I needed the four years to develop and get better. Also, which didn’t help that is, I guess Arizona drafted me, but the whole management changed," Clifton told reporters during a post-extension conference call on Wednesday. "I guess, they weren’t too high on me, so I guess it just lucked out that way."

Luck came for Clifton with the Bruins, who signed him to his two-year ELC after trying him out in Providence. Then opportunity knocked for him on the Bruins defense after Kevan Miller went down with a broken kneecap, and Clifton outperformed pretty much everyone's expectations.

At three years and $1 million per season, Clifton's extension is a great depth signing for Sweeney and the B's. And it's a nice reward for a young defenseman who stayed patient and put the work in to earn it.

"I guess, after college I end up on the American League in Prov, and I was thrilled about that, and I’ve come pretty far in the past year and a half or two years since that happened," Clifton said. "So, it’s been a good ride so far, but hopefully it’s just the beginning."

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].