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The Globe will take a closer look at the Bruins players who will likely be exposed in the July 21 NHL expansion draft in a three-part series. Part 1: Defenseman Connor Clifton and left wing Jake DeBrusk.

Connor Clifton

Clifton is the type of asset every forward-thinking NHL team could use: a low-cost, energetic, right-shot defenseman who has a couple years left on his contract. So why might the Bruins let him go?

Clifton, 26, isn’t as established as Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Matt Grzelcyk, the three defensemen the Bruins are likely to protect. Unless Seattle needs forwards, or more size on the back end, he may be playing out the final two years of his deal (at $1 million per) in Seattle.

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“I guess I wasn’t in the league when the Vegas expansion hit, so it’s new territory to me,” Clifton said recently. “I guess at the end of the day I’ll probably be left unprotected. It is what it is. I guess it’s part of the business. I love being a Bruin and I hope it remains as such.”

What does the future hold for Connor Clifton?
What does the future hold for Connor Clifton?John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

How he got here: The Bruins bet on Clifton, a Coyotes draft pick (fifth round, 133rd overall, 2013) whose rights were renounced after he played four years at Quinnipiac. He signed an AHL deal in 2017, and worked his way up from Providence. He curbed his freewheeling tendencies — a style that earned him the nickname “Cliffy Hockey” — and worked his way from No. 11 to No. 6 on the defensive depth chart in 2018-19, scoring twice in the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup Final.

This past season, he appeared in a career-high 44 games (1-6—7) and went scoreless in 10 playoff games (he has 36 playoff appearances in three seasons). Never afraid to play the body despite his size (5 feet 11 inches, 175 pounds), he dished out more hits (108) and took more (113) than any Bruin. His 52 blocked shots ranked third on the team.

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Scouting report: The favorite son of Long Branch, N.J., plays an energetic, tenacious style. He protects himself and wins pucks with crunching reverse hits. Offensively, he will take the open ice in front of him, with a good burst of speed. He does not lack confidence but can overextend himself and attempt passes beyond his current skill set.

Clifton also stepped up to play his off (left) side during the playoffs when Jeremy Lauzon was injured.

Clifton is better in the transition game than at the offensive blue line, though more offensive-zone starts might improve his skills there. This past season, he was asked to defend more, starting a low percentage (26.4) of his shifts in the O-zone. He earns secondary penalty-killing time in Boston and has not been used on the power play.

By the numbers: In the last two seasons, the Bruins outscored opponents, 44-34, when Clifton was on the ice at five on five. That was the 24th-best rate among 171 D-men with 1,000 or more minutes played, sandwiched between well-known names Alex Pietrangelo (22nd), Samuel Girard (23rd), Aaron Ekblad (25th), and Roman Josi (26th). Meanwhile, the Bruins had negative differentials in shots (49 percent) and scoring chances (46 percent) in the same situations.

Chance Seattle takes him: High

What it could mean for the Bruins: The right-side depth would be thin behind McAvoy and Carlo. Lauzon, a lefty, could get more reps there.

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Jake DeBrusk

DeBrusk needs a fresh start, whether it is in Boston or elsewhere.

His coach knows it. Bruce Cassidy recently spoke of trying to find common ground with DeBrusk, whose game has declined.

DeBrusk knows it, too. The fun-loving 24-year-old acknowledged he struggled with isolation during the last two COVID-impacted seasons, but he lacked the pop the Bruins came to expect when he broke out as a sophomore (27 goals in 2018-19). This past season, he scored five times in 41 games, and Cassidy healthy-scratched him a few times, including in Game 5 of the second round of the playoffs against the Islanders.

Has Jake DeBrusk taken his final shift with the Bruins?
Has Jake DeBrusk taken his final shift with the Bruins?John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

While DeBrusk waits to see if he’s left exposed, he is taking this offseason to hit the reset button.

“I need to revamp some stuff,” DeBrusk said recently. “There were a lot of factors that went into this year. Things that I could control and couldn’t control. I’ve disappointed myself and my team. I’m looking forward to this year, I’ve got to prove a lot of people wrong.”

Maybe that mission continues in Seattle. It is also possible the Bruins try to recoup an asset, be it a similar, underperforming talent or a draft pick. Letting DeBrusk walk for nothing would be inadvisable.

How he got here: One of the three first-round picks of Don Sweeney’s first draft (2015, 14th overall), the gregarious Edmontonian brought his megawatt smile and “JD Vibes” to the Bruins’ locker room in 2017-18. He found a home on the second line with David Krejci and became one of several young players who helped the Bruins make a playoff run.

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His 43-point rookie year and 27-goal, 42-point sophomore season came on a rookie deal, as did his 35-point third season, when he began to fall short of expectations. As a restricted free agent entering this past season, DeBrusk signed a two-year deal worth $3.675 million. He will be an RFA in the summer of 2022.

DeBrusk dropped to the third line with the arrival of Nick Ritchie at the 2020 trade deadline and was further pushed down the lineup when Taylor Hall joined the team a year later. That has made him a bit of a misfit in Cassidy’s lineup, skating his off wing in the bottom six.

Scouting report: At his best, DeBrusk uses his breakaway speed to stretch defenses and fills the net with quick wrist shots, snappers, and a soft changeup pitch upstairs that fools goalies. He profiles as a left-shot, middle-six scoring winger. The Bruins have tried to round out his game with more defensive and penalty-killing responsibilities, but he has been inconsistent.

He is not an overly physical player at 6 feet and 188 pounds, and is too often caught on the perimeter, circling out of the danger areas. When he gets agitated, DeBrusk will mix it up, finish a few hits and fill shooting lanes, but he doesn’t always get the better of the battle along the walls or in front of the net.

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His power-play time was essentially cut in half this past season. He went from net-front on the first unit to fringe player on the second. Rather than using his speed to hunt pucks around the net, the Bruins tried to turn him into a penalty-killer, giving him regular shifts rather than put him out as a breakaway threat as the PK expired.

By the numbers: Is he the player who shot 17.3 percent in 2018-19, or is he the bottom-six misfit who shot 5.4 percent this past season (4.23 percent at five on five)? DeBrusk was getting quality scoring chances at similar rates to his first three seasons but finished at a career-worst clip. At even strength, DeBrusk has lived in the 12-minute time on ice range in his four seasons but saw his average PP time dwindle to 1:25 per game. He averaged 42 seconds of PK time.

Chance Seattle takes him: High. Seattle may see in DeBrusk a top-six scorer who needs a new challenge. The Bruins may be able to fix whatever has made the warning lights blink on DeBrusk’s dashboard. Sweeney may be able to get something in return.

What it could mean for the Bruins: They would be letting a player with scoring talent walk for nothing, and it would be another reminder of how poorly the 2015 draft went for Sweeney. But DeBrusk has not shown he would be a reliable successor to Brad Marchand (and Hall, if he re-signs).


Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.