The Role of a Depth Player
No one can deny the combative nature of hockey. Within a league that displays some of the most talented players in the world, there is a side of nastiness.
Because there are not many physical players that lack offensive production signed to lengthy contracts worth millions of dollars. Some feel that the evolution of the role of a physical agitator has already taken place. No longer can a player be that one-dimensional.
Insert Jordan Nolan and Kyle Clifford of the Los Angeles Kings. The two have anchored a fourth line that has given the Kings a solid forecheck and has helped sustain momentum for a driving-possession team. Whether these guys are centered by recent healthy-scratch Mike Richards or rookie, Nick Shore, both have played well for the Kings down the stretch.
Clifford’s limited offensive production is relative to fourth line minutes. His hard-nosed style and net-front presence embody the Kings’ system and is evident on the Stanley Cup winning drive to the net last season.
As stated, the twenty-four year old Ayr, Ontario native entered the league as a nineteen year old and out-fought others competing for that same spot on a limited professional roster the year after the Kings drafted him in the second round. In 2009-2010, Clifford had held on to his spot, has consistently put out solid efforts on the ice, and has the capability of taking on a larger leadership role.
Now Nolan’s contract came as a bit of a surprise. Jordan Nolan had been in and out of the lineup the last couple of years as a healthy scratch. However, this did not deter General Manager, Dean Lombardi, from signing Jordan Nolan to a three-year contract extension around the same time Clifford was signed.
Nolan has now been in the lineup regularly since January of this year. Nolan has showed off his great release by scoring a surprise wrist-shot to beat Vezina winner, Tuuka Rask and the absolute bomb (of a shot) that was blasted past Calgary Flames’ goalie, Jonas Hiller.
In addition to a solid forecheck and a hard shot, Nolan has a nasty side. As a bigger player at 6’3” and 221 pounds, Nolan has gone toe-to-toe with heavyweights like Milan Lucic and Tom Sestito. He is also known for his physical play and never shies away from a big hit.
His even nastier side can be seen in plays in between the whistles. For example, a cheap shot delivered on Edmonton Oilers’ forward Jesse Joensuu after a scrum as both players were being (somewhat) restrained.
Another example is when he antagonized Columbus forward, Scott Hartnell, to the point of Hartnell swinging his stick at Nolan’s face. While nothing came of the play other than a two-minute minor assessed to Hartnell for fencing. Nolan was simply doing his job and pushing the envelope a little bit.
The Gruesome Twosome
Both Kyle Clifford and Jordan Nolan have done well trying to establish themselves as NHL producers. Whether the impact is on the score sheet (the two are combined for twenty-three points this season) or in different facets on the ice, their energy and strong forecheck can provide a spark, keep possession going, and create scoring chances.
The season still has a lot to tell in a surprisingly small amount of games left. Nolan and Clifford have been anchoring the fourth-line and the Kings will need the two to continue their work ethic and production. Depth/role players can play major roles in the playoffs and uphold an identity the Los Angeles Kings have worked hard to achieve.