Our annual, 2020 version of the top players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
#17: Clayton Phillips, Left D
2019 Ranking: 19
Age: 21 (September 9, 1999)
Height/Weight: 6’0, 195 pounds
Acquired Via: 2017 NHL Draft (Third Round — #93)
From his 2019 spot on the countdown, it looks like Phillips has added an inch or so to his height as well as ten-to-twelve pounds of weight. This is an encouraging sign for Phillips, who needs to fill out a bit more as a college player to advance in his development.
Phillips’ 2019-20 season was his junior year of college and first at Penn State after transferring from the University of Minnesota. And for his efforts, Phillips nearly equaled his 2018-19 point totals in seven fewer games. While he didn’t put up blazing offensive numbers, Phillips and his Hockey Valley teammates captured the Big Ten Championship, but the postseason tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Edina, Minnesota native still looks like the smooth-skating, somewhat undersized defensemen that many described him as when he was drafted in 2017. Back in April, Hooks put out a three-year review of the 2017 draft class, stating that Phillips is still an interesting project, but one that is probably “lightyears away” from making an impact at the NHL level.
In an interview with GoPSUSports from March, Phillips talked about what may be his most underrated trait as a player:
“I think the most underrated part of my game that fans might not notice on the ice is definitely my hand-eye coordination. This stems from my elite ping pong skills in our lounge area. We have a board hanging in the lounge area with ping pong rankings. I played regularly and don’t think I lost more than five games the entire year. Kevin Wall would always challenge me but would never prevail. Ping pong is a great way to stay competitive off the ice and work on your hand-eye coordination.”
And here’s how Phillips has improved his game as well as what he wants to work on during the 2020-21 campaign:
“I think the most improved part of my game since arriving at Penn State is my defensive play. As a defensive core the big emphasis all year was to have good gap control. I think that played a huge role in me gaining more confidence in my defensive game. I’m not necessarily looking to improve one ‘specific’ thing this summer, rather trying to continue to grow all aspects of my game. Getting in the weight room to improve my strength and quickness along with on-ice sessions to continue to develop my skills are my goals for this summer.”
Phillips will look to continue his professional development at Penn State this season. Currently, the Big Ten is set to kick off their 2020-21 hockey season by November 13. As of now, the defenseman still has a good bit of work to do to climb up Pittsburgh’s prospects ranks, but he could turn out to be a “late bloomer” of sorts who projects to be fringe NHLer if everything goes his way.