Between the dates of January 30th, 2015, and July 1st, 2016, Adam Clendening was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, and finally the New York Rangers. When players bounce around like Clendening has most people would assume that the player is a mediocre, average-at-best player. That has been the opposite of what the Rangers have seen out of Clendening.
Clendening Possesses Surprising Ability
When the Rangers signed Clendening on July 1st, many wondered where he would fit in on a blue line that has an abundance of players. Clendening has skated over 19 minutes twice so far this season in five starts, making minimal mistakes in that ice time. With the point primarily filled by defensive defensemen, Clendening provides an important “quarterback” role to the offense. Basically, he creates chances and forces the defense to account for him on the blue line which in turn opens space for the forwards to work easier.
Clendening has also shown flashes of excellence passing the puck. For example, Clendening created multiple chances including the one above. He has maintained an effective style of play in the corners while staying solid when exiting the zone which will help a Rangers team that is constantly finding themselves making bad turnovers in their own zone. If he can maintain this style of play, there will be no reason for Alain Vigneault to slot other defensemen above him in the lineup.
While passing may be the strongest part of the 23-year-old’s game, Clendening also has a very accurate shot. While he played in the minors, his ability to put the puck on and around the net to create better chances was lauded. On top of that, he also produced the odd goal every few games when his team was in need of an offensive boost. Not many defensemen in the NHL can play this style, while he is the definition of a serviceable offensive defenseman.
The best part about the offensive game that Clendening possesses is the fact that he can do any job. He’s been very effective pinching offensively to keep plays alive. He’s also been good holding the point, showing off his shooting ability with four shots on goal over the first five games he has appeared in. As long as there are no faults in decision making, Clendening has a good chance at being an important part of the Rangers five on five and powerplay lineups for the foreseeable future.
Low Risk, High Reward
After years of playing for the U.S. National Under-18 Team and winning back to back gold medals at the IIHF World U18 Championships in 2009 and 2010, Clendening was picked by the Chicago Blackhawks 36th overall in 2011. He spent three years tearing up the minors tallying 22 goals and 96 assists on the Rockford Icehogs. Many analysts projected him to be cracking the Blackhawks lineup as early as 2012 or 2013. That never ended up amounting to anything due to the Blackhawks defensive depth.
After bouncing around in Chicago, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, and Edmonton, there is finally a spot to be won and Clendening will likely not be giving it up anytime soon. As a $600,000 signing, he provides a huge cap relief to a Rangers team saddled by big contracts from players like Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. Frankly, the skills he possesses can turn into something extremely special and very highly rewarding for the Rangers in the future. As long as he can harness his ability and use it correctly every time he’s on the ice, he will win over Rangers fans and quickly become a highly respected defenseman around the league.
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New Defensive Corps, Same Vigneault
As announced, Clendening did not play against the Arizona Coyotes in a Sunday night matchup that pitted a mediocre Coyotes team against the Rangers. With a skillset unlike most defensemen, one would think Vigneault would jump at the chance to play a competent defenseman over a defenseman who’s already made multiple mistakes that lead to goals.
Looks like Dan Girardi back in @NYRangers lineup tonite vs. @ArizonaCoyotes. Extras skating at MSG, Girardi not among them, Clendening is.
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) October 23, 2016
While Vigneault may just be giving him a break, it’s likely not one of his wiser decisions to sit Clendening this early in the season. The Rangers will turn to Klein, McDonagh, and Staal to supplement what the puck-moving defenseman has done for the team so far. This move was expected but not exactly welcomed by Rangers fans. At this point, it’s just a head-scratching move to sit the defenseman who’s been one of the best on the team five games in.