Defenseman Clayton Phillips, the Penguins' third-round pick in 2017, intends to leave the University of Minnesota to transfer to a different program, according to a report from The Rink Live.
Phillips finished his sophomore year of eligibility this season, but it was only his first full season of college hockey. He was initially brought in by the Golden Gophers midway through the 2017-18 season to inject some life and offensive production into the Minnesota blue line. He played in only 11 games that season, but it still counted as his freshman year of eligibility.
“In my opinion, this is another unfortunate example of a player entering big-time college hockey before they are physically ready and, more important, mentally ready to compete against men and handle the demands on and off the ice," said Cary Eades, general manager of Phillips' former USHL team, the Fargo Force.
Phillips has played under two different head coaches at Minnesota, and Bill Guerin has spoken about being impressed by how Phillips adjusted to the change this season. Phillips recorded one goal and nine assists in 34 games, and quarterbacked the Gophers' power play. His minus-12 was the lowest among all Minnesota defensemen, but that was more a reflection of how heavily he was utilized, not necessarily poor play.
Phillips, who turns 20 in September, played at 6 feet, 195 pounds this past season, a jump from 5-10, 182 pounds when he was drafted. At that time, scouting director Randy Sexton described him as a “mobile, transitional, puck-moving defenseman.”
The Rink Live lists Penn State and Colorado College as potential transfer destinations for Phillips. If he does transfer to a new program, NCAA rules dictate that Phillips must sit out one year before playing for another Division I school.
Phillips is also still eligible for junior hockey. The Muskegon Lumberjacks retain Phillips' rights in the USHL, and the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL own Phillips' rights in the Canadian major junior system. Phillips can play in the USHL and return to NCAA hockey, but if he plays in the WHL he can not return to NCAA hockey, because WHL players receive a stipend.