Kyle Clifford returns to Leafs organization who never wanted him to leave

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It’s not like Kyle Clifford needs to make a good impression on his Toronto Marlies teammates. But he did.

The reacquired veteran winger remained on the ice working on his game for a good half hour after coach Greg Moore ended AHL team training on Friday.

“He skates really well and works really hard,” Moore said of Clifford. “Its competitiveness is off the charts, and that’s something that we value within our organization, and certainly with the way we play. It will therefore bring a lot of rhythm. He’s going to move the game forward in the right direction.

“He brings a lot of leadership. We are delighted to have it.

In truth, Clifford believes he has only been on the ice twice in the past three weeks, sidelined by COVID-19.

“I couldn’t wait to go,” Clifford said. “One of the best ways to bond as a team is just to be out there and shoot the s — with the guys. So that was fun.

The Leafs initially acquired Clifford in a 2020 trade with the Los Angeles Kings that also brought goalie Jack Campbell to Toronto. Clifford had one goal, two assists and 23 penalty minutes in 16 games with the Leafs before the pandemic ended the regular season. He was held up without a point in the five-game qualifying round against Columbus.

“I’m just excited,” Clifford said. “I didn’t want to leave; I know they didn’t want me to go. So I am delighted to be back. I know some of these (Marlies) guys. And I also got to see some of the Leafs guys (Thursday) night. So it’s just fun to see everyone.

He left as a free agent in 2020 – signing a two-year, $ 2 million (US) contract with the Blues – then ended up in St. Louis no man’s land this season. He only played two games, in part because of the fight against COVID, and authorized the waivers on Tuesday. The Leafs bought him back for future considerations as a deep attacker. He can stay with the Marlies, get his game back on track, until the Leafs need him.

“The idea is to get my feet wet and put my legs under me,” Clifford said.

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