Kyle Clifford returns to the Leafs organization that never wanted him to leave
It’s not like Kyle Clifford needed to make a good first impression on his Toronto Marlies teammates. But he did.
The reacquired veteran winger stayed on the ice working on his game for a good half-hour after coach Greg Moore ended the AHL team’s practice on Friday.
“He skates really well and works really hard,” Moore said of Clifford. “His competitiveness is off the charts, and it’s something that we value within our organization, and definitely with how we play. So he’s going to bring a lot of pace. He’s going to get the game going in the right direction.
“He brings a lot of leadership. We are excited to have him.”
In truth, Clifford figures he’s been on the ice just twice in the last three weeks, sidelined by COVID-19.
“I was just looking forward to getting out there,” said Clifford. “One of the best ways to build team bonding is just being out there and shoot the s— with the guys. So it was fun.”
The Leafs initially acquired Clifford in a 2020 trade with the Los Angeles Kings that also brought goalie Jack Campbell to Toronto. Clifford had a goal, two assists and 23 penalty minutes in 16 games with the Leafs before the pandemic shut down the regular season. He was held without a point in the five-game qualifying round against Columbus.
“I’m just excited,” said Clifford. “I didn’t want to leave; I know they didn’t want me to leave. So I’m thrilled to be back. I know some of these (Marlies) guys. And I was able to see some of the Leafs guys (Thursday) night, too. So it’s just fun to see everybody.”
He left as a free agent in 2020 — signing a two-year, $2-million (U.S.) deal with the Blues — then found himself in no-man’s land in St. Louis this season. He got into just two games, in part because of the bout with COVID, and cleared waivers on Tuesday. The Leafs reacquired him for future considerations as a depth forward. He can remain with the Marlies, getting his game back on track, until the Leafs need him.
“The idea is to get my feet wet and get my legs under me,” said Clifford.