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Kyle Clifford is a bit of a unicorn

There hasn’t really been a shortage of interesting takes on the Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford acquisitions and besides the hilarity of those saying that Clifford for Moore is essentially a wash, the next most interesting (but less wrong) take came from Kyle Dubas…

“He’ll make a big impact here right away, knowing his personality,” Dubas said Thursday. “If you have those elements to your game that you’re physical and competitive and you have a presence to you, you have to be able to play.

“He can play — and those guys aren’t in abundance anymore. I think that’s why when they’re available, the cost is pretty high.”

-via Sportsnet

I was curious to see just how rare guys like Clifford are and put out a couple of parameters. Players with positive expected goals differential, players with positive corsi differential, players with over 20 games played this season, and players with over 70 hits. Then since really we’re only looking at forwards in this scenario, I cut out the defensemen. The result is a list of 35 players in the league.

Rather than list them all off, I’m going to exclude a few more that clearly are in a class above Clifford, we’re talking the Tkachuk brothers, Ovechkin, Timo Meier, Andrei Scechnikov, Jamie Benn, J.T. Miller, and Phillip Danault. Perhaps it’s best to trim this list down by taking out the players who are playing over 13 minutes a night at 5v5 to get a better look at the bottom six grinders, who can play. The list produced 16 names…

Player Team ATOI xGF% CF% Fenwick% Hits
Ryan Reaves VGK 9.39 53% 53% 54% 235
William Carrier VGK 9.46 56% 53% 55% 169
Garnet Hathaway WSH 9.74 55% 54% 55% 145
Marcus Foligno MIN 12.06 59% 53% 54% 142
Milan Lucic CGY 11.45 51% 51% 50% 140
Zach Aston-Reese PIT 12.33 58% 51% 52% 125
Austin Wagner L.A 11.72 59% 57% 57% 120
Artturi Lehkonen MTL 12.57 54% 53% 51% 95
Kyle Clifford TOR 11.34 56% 55% 56% 95
Andrei Svechnikov CAR 12.85 59% 57% 57% 83
Pat Maroon T.B 10.66 54% 51% 51% 81
Sam Bennett CGY 11.43 56% 51% 51% 80
Tomas Nosek VGK 9.90 55% 52% 52% 76
Jordan Greenway MIN 12.50 55% 52% 53% 74
Mackenzie MacEachern STL 8.83 51% 54% 53% 72
Jared McCann PIT 12.77 51% 50% 51% 71

The first thing that I noticed is that Vegas is the worst team in the league for counting phantom hits. And of course now is as good a time as any to mention in arena counting of hits often favours the home team, it’s a garbage stat, yada, yada, yada, but for the purpose of quantifying who is a physical player, it’s what I’m going to use.

The next thing I’m going to point out is how ridiculous it is that Svechnikov is getting under 13 minutes of 5v5 play per game. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Carolina is a bubble team and not in a definitive playoff spot.

Lastly, this is a pretty short list, and one that certainly acknowledges Dubas’ point, that you aren’t going to find physical players who can play, easily. Or when you look at the list further, you aren’t going to find them cheap when you consider what Lucic makes ($5.25M) or even Reaves ($2,775M), Foligno ($2.875M), or Bennett ($2.55M).

There’s also the issue that of the players on that list only Foligno, Wagner, Lehkonen, and Greenway are on teams that are clearly not playoff bound and of that group, perhaps only Foligno isn’t so young or cheap that his team wouldn’t move on from him.

That shows a pretty limited market for players with Clifford’s abilities. Perhaps the best options of similar players who could be available are Sam Bennett (who I’d love to see as a Leaf) and Ryan Reaves (who lacks the upside to match the payday.)

Picking up Clifford appears to make sense, as far as bottom six forward acquisitions go, and given his fondness for the Leafs, his friendship with Jake Muzzin, and familiarity with Kyle Dubas, he is perhaps a player we will see in the years to come as well. Hopefully, on a similar contract to the one he signed in L.A.