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PensBurgh Top 25 Under 25: #22 - Clayton Phillips

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The Penn State defenseman still has some work to do.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal
Michigan State’s Charlie Combs, left, flies in the air after colliding with Penn State’s Clayton Phillips during the first period on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, at the Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing.
Nick King/Lansing State Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Our annual, 2021 version of the top players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.

2021 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed

#25: Santeri Airola
#24: Jan Drozg
#23: Will Reilly

#22: Clayton Phillips, Left D
2019 Ranking: 17
Age: 21 (September 9, 1999)
Height/Weight: 6’0, 195 pounds
Acquired Via: 2017 NHL Draft (Third Round — #93)

Highlights:

This goal, a power-play marker by Phillips, was his first of the 2020-21 season. It came in a 7-3 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers on November 24, 2020. He never took his eyes off the target and was rewarded for a nice snipe on the glove side.

Elite Prospects Resume:

The left-handed defenseman saw a bit of a decrease in his production across the board compared to his 2020-21 season. Playing in seven fewer games and registering two fewer points, it’s becoming clear that offense is not the name of Phillips’ game.

On the plus side, the Edina, Minnesota native was named an Academic All-Big Ten honoree.

Season Overview

at Wisconsin (11/24): Recorded his first goal of the season. Michigan (12/3): Tallied one assist in a 9-5 win. Michigan State (1/15): Added one assist in 3-2 victory. Wisconsin (1/22): Scored one goal in 5-4 win. Notre Dame (1/28): Tied the game with a late third-period goal and had the primary assist on the overtime game-winning goal...Secured his lone multi-point game of the season.

***

Heading into the 2021-22 season, Phillips, now a fifth-year senior, spoke with GoPSUSports in April of this year. He, along with teammate Adam Pilewicz, who is also returning to Hockey Valley for 2021-22, were interviewed and asked why they both decided to return.

Phillips believes he and his teammates needed one more chance to prove themselves. And individually, Phillips was more than okay with getting more ice time at the collegiate level.

“I made the decision after the season ended,” Phillips said. “I talked with the coaches, my parents and Pittsburgh. I love this place and feel like we have some unfinished business.”

For Phillips, it will be his third year playing for the Nittany Lions. He joined the program prior to the start of the 2019-20 season after spending two years at Minnesota. It’s a decision Phillips is incredibly thankful he made. The decision to return was a tough one for Phillips. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins and consulted with them prior to making his eventual decision.

”I think it would be unbelievable to get one more year of development before hopefully going to the next level,” Phillips said.

Phillips and Pilewicz share similar sentiments, and they both want to be remembered as guys who always put the team first. ”I want to be remembered as a team guy,” Phillips said. “The stuff you do on the ice speaks for itself but being remembered as a good teammate is how I want to be remembered.”

The million-dollar question always is: “What is the player’s ceiling?” So far, Phillips seems like an undersized, yet skilled two-way blueliner. The above power-play goal shows he’s no slouch when managing the puck in the offensive zone. His collegiate point totals don’t paint him as the next Kris Letang, but that’s not always a bad thing.

I’d be interested to see how Phillips’ game would translate in the AHL alongside other professionals. Can he make that next jump? It remains to be seen. After this season at Penn State concludes, the Penguins have a decision to make on the 21-year-old’s future. Do they want to continue developing Phillips or will they let him walk out of the organization? Remember, Phillips, along with many other players on this list, is a Jim Rutherford era draft pick. Does that have any significance on the way GM Ron Hextall views this player?

As of now, the defenseman remains unsigned, but the Penguins will retain his NHL rights until August 15, 2022.

His final season with the Nittany Lions could go a long way in determining whether or not Phillips earns an entry-level contract with the club that drafted him four years ago.