He’s gained our affection.

He’s shown he can play.

He’s proven his bite is as big as his bark.

He’s Kyle Clifford and I’m not sure he fits on the Los Angeles Kings.

Since busting onto the NHL scene as a terrifying 19-year old out of Barrie in juniors, Clifford has seen a regular shift on the Kings bottom six. In his two seasons with the team he has given us thrills, commitment and the occasional goal. He has size, hockey sense, no fear and everything that makes him the prototypical player all NHL teams strive to have policing the ice from their fourth line.

He’s a fan favorite. He’s one of my favorites. During the 2010-2011 playoffs against San Jose he not only scored big goals, but scored as many of them than as any other King. Had that playoff run perhaps been a Kopitar and a Carter richer, the Kings may have gone beyond that first round and Kyle might have easily earned himself the moniker of ‘clutch’. Up until Kyle suffered a concussion in game two of the first round against Vancouver this year, taking him out of the lineup would have seemed utterly foolish. However, once he was healthy, he was unable to make it way back into the lineup save for a single game.

Why? Dwight Kings and Jordan Nolan.

Has the emergence of Dwight King, along with Jordan Nolan, two big bodied left wingers, nudged Kyle Clifford out of the picture? LA fans are salivating at the idea that they have their Cup team intact for next season and beyond, but despite what the Stanley Cup ring with the 2011-2012 season engraved on it will read, Kyle Clifford was not really a part of that Cup team.

King and Nolan have put the Kings in a position they haven’t known in recent or long term memory. The once bereft left side in now stacked with five players who naturally align there and that is without considering Dustin Brown for the wing where he has had the most success.

Simon Gagne, Dwight King, Jordan Nolan, Kyle Clifford, Dustin Penner and Dustin Brown.

Of those six, Brown, Gagne and Nolan are the only ones I believed I’ve ever seen play on the right side and I’m only half-sure I’ve seen Nolan play the right.

Clifford, once a staple of the fourth line, will find himself battling for his Kings life come training camp. The guy who just a year ago made us calmer that Wayne Simmonds was traded away is now seemingly the odd man out for consistent duty.

The other day when Rich Hammond put together his salary structured roster for next season, Cifford wasn’t on it. Not that it means anything, because it doesn’t, but it highlights how easily the Kings roster could be filled, healthy scratches included, without Clifford as part of the equation. If Clifford doesn’t crack the top 23, then what? He certainly has no business playing in Manchester.

What do I think? I think Westgarth has no place on a Darryl Sutter coached team, particularly one with King and Nolan, both big enough to be considered heavy weights and willing to take on the necessary fisticuffs. I also think Brad Richardson will be traded before too long. There are also injuries to consider. There’s the chance King or Nolan regress. Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen an annoying sophomore slump.

I also find myself wishing Gagne weren’t on a two year contract. That will change if he stays healthy, because boy can he score. But in a way I feel that he is the one guy cocking this is all up for Clifford.

This is a great problem to have. You can’t complain about an embarrassment of riches. Damn it all though, I want to see Kyle Clifford 41 times at Staples next season. Then again I wanted to see Wayne Simmonds play for years with a crown on his chest, and it’s amazing what a Stanley Cup can make you forget you ever wanted.

I’ve been going around on this issue in circles the last week. It’s giving me anxiety. So I’m turning to you. What do you see happening? Put together some mock lineups. Is Kyle Clifford on yours?