Over the last several weeks the name Kyle Clifford has become a fixture in the Edmonton Oilers rumor mill. Depending who you ask, it seems as though a trade for the bulky winger is either a great idea, or the greatest idea. But is it even necessary? The Oilers recently rolled the dice with another player of this type. As a matter of fact, he's still in the system.
Ben Eager came to Edmonton with the promise of providing some functional toughness to the bottom of the lineup. As an Oiler, Eager was exactly what he had been for the previous six seasons or so: a bruiser who could chip in a handful of goals each year. Let's compare Eager's NHL counting stats to that of Clifford:
As you can see, there isn't much to separate the two offensively at this point. Eager and Clifford have different levels of experience, having played 400 and 205 NHL games respectively, but they've had similar results in a similar role. The main point in favor of Clifford is his age, as it's not quite clear yet how good he has the potential to be.
It stands to reason that Clifford may simply need time to translate his scoring to the NHL level. In order to find out if Clifford's offensive ceiling is significantly higher than Eager's, let's go back and look at their OHL scoring stats by their ages at the start of each season:
|Ben Eager||Kyle Clifford|
|Age 16||0.16 Points per Game||0.23 Points per Game|
|Age 17||0.59 Points per Game||0.47 Points per Game|
|Age 18||0.69 Points per Game||0.98 Points per Game|
|TOTAL||0.48 Pts/G||0.54 Pts/G|
Eager played one more season than Clifford in the OHL which is not included in this comparison. Judging by this table, it's pretty clear that Clifford has more offense in him than Eager does. Not much more, but it's something.
On the other hand, Clifford's 2009-10 Barrie Colts (his 18 year old season) jumped to 327 Goals For from just 214 the year before. They ended the year with nine players with 50 or more points - including Clifford, who was eighth in team scoring - which is up significantly from just three players the year before, and were the best team in the league that year.
Clifford's seven goals and 14 points in just 48 games this past season matched career highs in 76 games as a rookie, but also coincided with a career high personal shooting percentage of 12.5%. He also had the third highest on-ice shooting percentage among the Kings' regular forwards. Even without the underlying numbers, which are not great, his stats aren't jumping off the page as a clear cut upgrade.
The idea behind this comparison is not to suggest that Kyle Clifford is exactly like Ben Eager, but more to question if Clifford is enough of an improvement to justify giving up a top prospect like Martin Marincin or Martin Gernat. Considering that this would be a trade inside the division, it could take a few nice items to land Clifford. When all is said and done, will he be that much better or cheaper than a player the Oilers don't deem worthy of being on the roster?