Oilers Take Calculated Risk Claiming Adam Clendening

Adam Clendening has this pick-up-and-move routine down to a science now. The 23-year-old defender is onto his fifth NHL club in the last two seasons. On Wednesday, he packed his bags for Edmonton. The Oilers claimed him off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks.

The 2011 2nd round pick is in his second NHL season, and has been bounced around through a combination of having a desirable skill set and pedigree, but not being able to find his offensive touch at the NHL during his rookie season or the nine games he’s played this season. He has one goal and five points in 30 NHL games.

A Fit in Edmonton

As mentioned yesterday, the Oilers make a lot of sense for the right-shot Clendening. His contract comes in at a reasonable $761,250 and ends this summer. If he looks like he can improve their team, great, he’s a RFA and they’ll control his rights. If it doesn’t work, they can attempt to flip his rights for a late round pick or just let him walk, and the team doesn’t lose anything.

But the potential upside is worthwhile on a team where they need defensive solutions now and for the future. The discussion frequently centers around the idea of flipping some of their offensive depth for a number one defenseman, which they may still have to do, but finding ways to improve the blue line without pillaging the team’s forward depth is crucial to them becoming a playoff team.

Number one defensemen don’t grow on trees, but using waivers, free agency and the desperation of cap-strapped teams to build a blue line is a possibility for a savvy GM who is also developing young talent.

You can’t take the only spot of roster strength — top six forwards — and diminish it to improve elsewhere, expecting that you aren’t creating other problems. To step forward you need to maintain points of strength, bring in depth players who are good in their roles and continue to develop what’s in the system. (And you probably still need to find a number one defenseman, but that doesn’t automatically solve all your problems.)

What Adam Clendening Brings

Clendening has barely seen ice time this season, but last year between the NHL and AHL wasn’t stellar. Yet, it essentially amounts to a bad season where he displayed some ability to control play (.7% score-adjusted CF%Rel), but didn’t get his offensive game off the ground. As the Oilers know well **cough**Devan Dubnyk**cough** it’s not ideal to write-off a player due to a single bad season when they’ve previously displayed talent.

The season before last Clendening was a 21-year-old defenseman who was named a First Team All-Star in the AHL. The year before that, at 20, he was a part of the AHL All-Star Game in his rookie year. Those seasons came on the heels of two solid years at Boston University and an All-Star performance at the World Junior Championship, where he won gold with Team USA and led tournament defensemen in goals, assists and points.

He’s defensively capable — though plays a risky game in the defensive zone that doesn’t always pay off. Yet, he has an offensive touch and could step into power play time and provide some scoring depth. He’s creative with the puck and is an adept passer. There are no guarantees, but Anaheim waiving him shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on his talent, but a necessity with their great defensive depth.

Why He Was Out There

Why Anaheim got him in the David Perron trade isn’t entirely clear. It’s likely that Pittsburgh decided they needed some cap relief with Carl Hagelin coming in and the possibility of more trades coming down the pike. In this deal, they were negotiating with a team that had some cap space to spare, so they shipped him out.

Pittsburgh has a number of players who are of Clendening’s ilk and need further development. The Pens are in win-now mode and saw an opportunity to clear some space. To boot, their recent history isn’t full of a ton of patience in developing players. For Edmonton, there’s time. They can give Clendening a good audition with the kind of usage that should best serve his game. Pittsburgh couldn’t do that.

Edmonton also gains a warm body who is a right shot. That could be useful if the Oilers plan on shipping out a right shot like Justin Schultz, Mark Fayne or Eric Gryba.

It’s a gamble for the Oilers, but it’s a worthwhile one. Clendening has something to prove and knows that if he doesn’t prove it now, he may not get another shot.

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