Player: Clayton Phillips
Height: 5’11” Weight: 174 lbs.
Team: Fargo Force(USHL)
Final NHL Central Scouting rank: 99th among North American skaters
What I Like
Phillips is really strong with his lower body and has great balance when skating. There’s very little unnecessary or wasted movement , which allows him to get around the ice smoothly and efficiently. That calm lower body makes him effective both moving forward with the puck on his stick, and when he’s moving backwards and defending against the rush.
Phillips is a former forward that moved back to the blue line at a fairly late age, and some of the offensive skills that he utilized at forward carried over to his play on the blue line. Phillips is a smooth puckhandler that can stickhandle his way out of pressure if need be.
Ironically, when Phillips played forward, his biggest weakness was passing the puck. But when he moved back to the blue line, where he could evaluate the play in front of him, he became a really superb passer that was excellent at starting the offensive rush. He’s great at getting his head up and finding a teammate to get the puck to.
What I Don’t Like
As a converted forward, Phillips’ defensive coverage is just okay. He’s a strong one-on-one defender, but sometimes has the tendency to get caught out of position in his own zone. That should continue to improve with experience, but might be a red flag for teams.
It’s easy to point to a lot of things Phillips does really well taken individually, but when you add them all up, it never seems to amount to as much as it should. He put up 20 points this season with Fargo in the USHL, which isn’t terrible, but he didn’t quite take over games and put up offensive numbers like one would hope from a high draft pick. And it’s probably not entirely his fault, but Phillips’ teams always seem to underperform a bit compared to expectations.
Phillips isn’t overly big and prefers to play a finesse game. He’s not going to be much of a physical presence. That’s not a huge deal. If Phillips makes it to the NHL, he’s going to earn his paycheck with his skating and passing ability. But it is something worth pointing out.
I think Phillips is worthy of a selection somewhere in this Draft. Most projections suggest it will be somewhere after the top 100 picks, but I can’t imagine it will be too much longer after that. Phillips upside as an offensive defenseman is too intriguing, and I don’t see the negatives as being any worse than anyone else likely to be available at that point in the Draft. I think he’ll be selected somewhere in the fourth to sixth round.
Phillips will return to Fargo for another season next year, which is probably the right move. That will give him a better opportunity to develop his skills as a puck-moving offensive-minded defenseman once he’s more comfortable as a junior hockey veteran. After that, he’ll head to the University of Minnesota. He may have to wait his turn for a year or two, but eventually, the hope would be that he develops into a power play quarterback for the Gophers, and that those skills carry over to the pro level some day. At this point, it’s probably not realistic to suggest he will develop into a top pairing power play quarterback at the NHL level, but it is reasonable to hope he becomes a solid puck-moving defenseman that maybe contributes as a second unit power play guy.