Adam Clendening came to the New York Rangers this offseason on a one-year deal worth $600,000. On such a reasonable contract the expectations are for him to add some depth and perhaps win a role as a seventh or eighth defenseman; as the club seems to have a cast of veterans that they are committed to. The Rangers are Clendening’s fifth team in as many years; so he’s struggled to carve out a full-time role for himself in past seasons. For the first time in his career, he may have a chance to finally earn his keep, play on a nightly basis, and call a city home for longer than a few months. It’s no secret that the Rangers need speed on the back-end, particularly on the right side and thus far Clendening has displayed some of the qualities that the team needs.
Clendening jumped out right away with his ability to move the puck and elude the fore-check. This has always been a strong suit of his game, but it became apparent to Rangers fans on Tuesday night in the first preseason game against the New York Islanders where the young defender, was zipping all over the ice and snapping tape-to-tape passes. Rangers’ head coach Alain Vigneault made it clear what he thinks it means to move the puck well after the game, “A lot of a teams speed starts from the backend. It starts with them being able to go back for pucks quickly and beating the forecheck and getting it up.”
This philosophy has always been the core of Vigneault’s style, which is that good speed creates good transitions which create scoring chances and tight defense. At the moment the fastest skater on the right side of the Rangers defense is likely Kevin Klein, the other two right-handed defenders (Dylan McIlrath and Dan Girardi) are stay-at-home types, who don’t have great foot speed.
The Rangers lost a huge part of their team last season when they decided to move on from Keith Yandle. The American defender had 22 power-play points on the season which was tied for best on the team; he also led the defense in points with 47. Now at the moment the thought is that Captain Ryan McDonagh will take over as the teams lead power-play man, but it’s no secret that the Rangers have always been keen on getting a right-handed shot a chance too, just to change-up to the complexion of the unit. For example, if you look at last season, the second most deployed player on the man advantage after Yandle was righty Dan Boyle.
One area where I’ve been impressed has been Clendening’s work on the power-play. Yes, he looked great against the Islanders in the pre-season opener, but if you go back and watch him, you’ll notice that he does an excellent job of selling his shot and moving the puck.
Clendening reminds me of Anton Stralman in that he has an obvious skill set but has never really had that glowing chance to put it all together. I think that the Rangers need more speed on defense, the issue comes down to who would sit. Does the team want to sit McIlrath whose developed so much over the years? The other man they’d look at is Girardi, the 32-year-old is coming off a rough season, and it’s unlikely that he rekindles any jump in his step; but how can you sit an assistant captain who makes $5.5 million over the next four seasons?
These are hard questions, but they are questions that organizations want to have to answer because that means they have options. For now, Clendening has to keep playing well to keep the team under the gun. With enough hard work, he may finally find himself at home.