Adam Clendening joined the New York Rangers this offseason as a UFA and was one of the team’s pleasant surprises through training camp. Heading into the regular season, Clendening was the seventh defender and the general thought was that he would be shifted into the lineup from time to time to give veterans like Dan Girardi a break and add some pop to the power play. In the Rangers’ first back-to-back situation they turned to Clendening to spell Girardi, but in the previous two back-to-back situations, the team has left Clendening in the press box.
The Rangers have had success thus far, so it’s understandable that the team has opted to keep its roster intact, but one can’t help but wonder what the team will do if it needs to suddenly turn to him. The last time the defender played was on Nov. 6, where he had a point in over 16 minutes of ice time, but since then he hasn’t seen any action. To me, this would be understandable if Clendening wasn’t a fit, but he is. He plays the up-tempo, pass-first kind of game that head coach Alain Vigneault and his staff sell. If the team plays him more, it only stands to provide itself insurance and maybe give itself a slightly different complexion.
The Rangers’ defense has been a topic of debate since the offseason. There were questions about the team’s ability to break the puck out of the zone and stay fresh over the course of the season. These reasons seemed to directly lead to the team’s decision to keep the 24-year-old with them for the year, but to this point he’s hardly had a chance to make an impact, getting into only six games thus far.
The Rangers don’t have a slick passing right-handed defender. While Girardi and Kevin Klein have been excellent, they don’t have that graceful element when moving the puck out of their end. One play that Clendening made in the last game he played cuts right to the heart of what I mean. Clendening receives the puck in his end, draws in the forechecker just far enough and then makes a quick, clean pass that ends up in the back of the net.
Plays like this fly under the radar, but make no mistake, clean transitions are the driving force behind any offense and there’s no doubt that Clendening can do the job.
A New Opportunity for Clendening
With Mika Zibanejad now out for six to eight weeks, Clendening may have a chance to grab some more ice time. Yes, Zibanejad is a forward, but Clendening could step in and be that right-handed shot other than Derek Stepan on the power play. Typically the Rangers like to put Zibanejad at the top of the left circle to set up on the man advantage, but with the big center out the team doesn’t have any other righties with power-play credentials to take the reins. Clendening is similar in that he has a great shot and great vision, which makes him a threat from long range.
The unit hasn’t been as crisp lately so perhaps getting Clendening in could jumpstart the unit and get it back to that shoot-first mentality.
I think it’s always trouble to allow players to sit for long stretches. It just seems like when it finally does come time to call on the player, he struggles to keep pace and make calm plays, which is understandable when you consider that the only hockey he’s been playing is in practice. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that Clendening is better than any of the other six defenders who dress over him on a nightly basis, but I do see some untapped potential, and the Rangers would be wise to get him some more games.