- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Adam Clendening has watched this season as a few of his former Rockford IceHogs defenseman teammates have left the Chicago Blackhawks and found permanent NHL roster spots elsewhere.
Ryan Stanton was claimed on waivers by the Vancouver Canucks and has been a fixture in the Canucks’ defense all season. Dylan Olsen was traded to the Florida Panthers in November and has also since stuck in the NHL. Both players were likely to remain with the IceHogs, the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, if they had remained with the organization.
If the 21-year-old Clendening sought the quickest route to the NHL, his best opportunity would likely be somewhere else, as well. The Blackhawks have eight defensemen on their NHL roster, and six of them are already signed to return next season. But Clendening, who is considered the Blackhawks’ top defenseman prospect, isn’t in a rush. He prefers to patiently wait for his turn with the defending Stanley Cup champs.
“I don’t really think about that,” Clendening said prior to a recent game against the Chicago Wolves. “Good for [Stanton and Olsen.] They got to move on and go somewhere, and they’re given a shot there.
“But I love this organization. We get treated just as good as an NHL team here with everything. They take care of their players so well. There’s so many good hockey minds here in the management. I think just being a part of it whether it’s going to take a little more time or not, if I do ever get a shot to play there, it’s a team that's just going to be just good for the next 10-15 years. I think that’s a plus for the whole situation to wait a little longer this year.”
From an offensive standpoint, Clendening, who was selected by the Blackhawks as a second-round pick in 2011, is probably ready for the NHL. He recorded 46 points in 73 games in his first AHL season last season and leads the IceHogs with 27 assists and 33 points in 46 games this season.
IceHogs coach Ted Dent believes Clendening possesses special offensive skills.
“At this level here, he sees the ice really well,” Dent said. “He makes great plays in the offensive zone, along the blue line. He’s one of the best I’ve seen in this league at getting pucks to the net whether it’s a slap shot or a half slapper.”
ESPN’s NHL draft and prospects analyst Corey Pronman has also been impressed by Clendening’s offensive ability. Clendening was among a short list of players who just missed Pronman’s recent top-50 prospect rankings.
“The offensive ability with him is truly high-end,” Pronman said. “You don't lead your AHL team in scoring -- one that isn't bad that is -- if that's not the case. He's got great puck skills and tremendous offensive instincts. With Clendening, it's always been about his own-end play and decision-making. The latter I think has improved somewhat, but Chicago will need confidence he will be able to check average NHL forwards before he makes that next jump.”
The defensive side is where Clendening has been working to improve his game. He’s taken the feedback he’s received from the Blackhawks and been working to get better in specific areas.
“They just told me to be trustworthy and defensively responsible and allow that to transition to use my offensive ability,” the 5-foot-11, 187-pound Clendening said. “The better and more responsible I am in the defensive zone, the easier that is to progress into offense.
“I think on the defensive side of the puck, [I’m improved] for sure. I’ve played against the other teams’ top lines basically every night since the start of the year. Just knowing they have the trust in me to do that is nice. It started a little bit at the end of last year. The defensive side is really coming along for me.”
Dent also thought Clendening being in only his second season with the IceHogs was in a different situation than some of the older and more experienced players.
“There’s no reason for him to be impatient or frustrated because he still has some work to do in his game,” Dent said. “He has the offensive skills. Still trying to work and get better at his play away from the puck. Be as fine-tuned as he can so when he does get the call, he takes advantage of it.
“Now it’s trying not to do too much to carry the team on his back, which he has been guilty of at times this year. We don’t really have the some personnel we had last year for our power play. I think a lot of times he puts a lot of pressure on himself to lead the way in that respect.”
Clendening understands where the Blackhawks are with their defensemen. He just tells himself to continue to be patient, and he’ll be rewarded in time.
“They won the Stanley Cup,” Clendening said. “They brought all those guys back. They’re looking pretty good again, I would have to say.
“It is what is. It’s just time and patience are the big things. You got to take this time while you’re down here and work on the little things and just fine-tune your game. Hopefully when you get a shot, you go up there and you’re able to stick. Hopefully you don’t have to come back.”