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Phillips models game after Letang, has ties to Guentzel

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

While Clayton Phillips was born and raised in Minnesota, he's always been a Penguins fan.

"I just love the way they play," Phillips said. "They're always one of the best teams, if not the best, so it's easy to cheer for them."

Needless to say, Phillips was ecstatic to be selected by the Pens in the third round (93rd overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft on Saturday at United Center.

"To actually be drafted by them, it really is just unbelievable and just a dream come true," Phillips said.

The 17-year-old described himself as an offensive defenseman that loves to get up into the rush, but makes sure to take care of business in his own zone as well. Somebody he tries to emulate in that regard is Pens defenseman Kris Letang.

"I like to take bits and pieces from his game and try and put them into mine and learn from him," Phillips said of Letang. "He's one of the best defensemen in the league, so I just try and learn from him."

Phillips actually used to switch between forward and defense growing up in Edina, so he certainly has the offensive instincts.

"Usually in the summer I played forward and in the winter I played defense," Phillips said. "And then come tryouts for high school I asked the coach, 'what line do you want me to hop in? Forward or D?' I jumped on a D line, and ever since then I haven't looked back."

For him, the biggest thing to work on moving forward is adding muscle to his 5-foot-10, 182-pound frame.

"I just want to get in the weight room and get stronger and put on some healthy weight," he said. "But it's not only in the weight room. Just try and develop all the different areas of my game because you can't ever stop trying to develop and get better. It's the main focus for me."

Phillips played two seasons at Edina High School before joining Fargo of the USHL, where he just finished his first full season there. He'll spend one more year with the Force before attending the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2018.

"Growing up, it's always a lifelong dream to play for the Gophers and when they came knocking, it was hard to say no," Phillips said. "I think I'll end up loving it there and I can't wait."

When Pens fans think of the Gophers, they think of the Guentzels. And Phillips was definitely invested in Jake Guentzel's breakout season with the Penguins, not just because he's a fellow Minnesotan, but because his dad Mike - an associate coach at Minnesota - played a role in recruiting him.

"His dad was a big part of the recruiting process for me because he's at the Gophers right now," Phillips said. "Obviously I think everyone saw the big run that Jake had, it was pretty exciting just knowing his dad. I've definitely been following him and (Mike) is actually here, too. So it was cool to share this moment with him."

Phillips said that Mike Guentzel was thrilled to see him drafted by his son's organization.

"He was pretty happy, that's for sure," Phillips laughed.

Overall, seeing the success that a young player like Jake Guentzel had with the Pens has been eye-opening for Phillips.

"I'm not a huge defenseman by any means, so I'm not going to go out there and crush anyone," he said. "But I think the style they play and the players they have, I'll hopefully be a great fit somewhere down the road."

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