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The education of Adam Clendening

by Kelsey Peters / Chicago Blackhawks

Both Patrick Kane and Adam Clendening grew up on the rinks of western New York. Their parents were friends, and they sometimes shared coaches, Kane first and then Clendening about four years later.

And on the day Clendening was drafted, Kane passed along a message: “Congratulations, it’s good to have another Buffalo guy around.”

The Blackhawks selected the defenseman in the second round of the 2011 Entry Draft. Chicago picked Mark McNeill (18th overall) and Phillip Danault (26th overall) in the first round, but some hockey insiders believe the Blackhawks essentially took four first round picks when they picked up Clendening (36th overall) and Brandon Saad (43rd overall) in the second.

“He was the one guy in the whole draft that I was really hoping we were going to get,” said Stan Bowman, Blackhawks vice president and general manager. “I’d seen him play a few times, and every game I went to, I just noticed him. He had the ability to make plays. Some guys make a bad play, and then they’re just afraid to try anything. Adam’s got that cockiness with the puck, where even if he turns it over and the other team scores, if he gets it again he’s going to try to make a play again. He’s got some guts that way. That’s one of his assets. You don’t want to coach that out of him.”

Clendening, a lifelong Bruins fan, is happy to be a Blackhawk and excited about the possibility of playing with his Buffalo brother one day.

“I think being drafted with the Hawks — the organization speaks for itself. From being near the bottom of the standings to winning a Cup in five or six years, it’s pretty special.”

Clendening was drafted after a stellar freshman year with Boston University, where he posted a squad-best 21 assists in 39 games. He was also named a Hockey East Honorable Mention All-Star, the lone rookie in the league to earn all-star recognition. Now he’s back with the Terriers for his sophomore campaign.

“I don’t think my mindset is all that different this year,” said Clendening. “But just being more used to the league — the pace of the play, the length of the season, how hard the games are, how important the games are — gives you more confidence and more composure.”

In the first 12 games of the 2011-12 season, he recorded one goal, eight assists and 34 shots on goal, which led all BU blueliners, while his 13 penalties for 34 minutes paced the team.

“He’s off to a very good start,” said Bowman. “Even though he’s only a sophomore, he’s one of their leaders. He’s a power-play guy for them, and I’d anticipate him to continue to have a big offensive role on the team. He played that role last year too, but I would say he’s stepped his game up to the next level. He’s really taken it upon himself to be one of their go-to guys on defense. The coaches see that. If anything, they think he has even more potential than he’s recognized. He’s got a lot of ability.”

Bowman sees Clendening in a similar role within the Blackhawks system — a power-play specialist and offensive defenseman that can complement skilled forwards. But he still has a ways to go.

“We’ve picked up on some things that he can get better at: his quickness and his ability to defend bigger players,” said Bowman. “He’s never going to be a big guy. He’s 5-foot-11. He is strong, but for a smaller guy he’s not real quick, so he has to use his smarts defensively when he plays against bigger players. And his skating is something that we’d like him to continue to improve.

“We don’t expect him to be a Duncan Keith kind of skater — probably more like Brent Seabrook. Brent is not a lightning-fast guy; he’s a powerful skater, and he’s a big strong guy. Adam is a smaller version of that. Adam plays a physical style, kind of like Seabrook does, but he just doesn’t have the size to be able to do that. So we’ve got to work with him on his own end, being able to contain players and defend them. But once he gets the puck and moves up the ice with it, he’s very gifted.”

Clendening says he looks up to players like Keith and Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang.

“I try to play like (Nicklas) Lidstrom, but that’s hard to do,” he said with a laugh. “My hockey sense is probably my best attribute, but I can quarterback a power play and transition from defense to offense pretty quickly too.”

His coaches at BU have made the comparison between Clendening and Terriers alum Kevin Shattenkirk, currently with the St. Louis Blues.

“He was also at Boston University; he was an offensive defenseman and smaller guy just like Clendening,” said Bowman. “But they say Clendening is further along in their minds than Shattenkirk was at the same age.”

Clendening isn’t the only Blackhawks prospect in Boston. Kevin Hayes (first round, 24th overall in the 2010 draft) plays for the rival Boston College Eagles, and the two grew up playing in tournaments together.

“He’s a big kid, and every time I see him he looks bigger,” joked Clendening. “He’s got great vision, it’s hard to work on him down low, and he’s very slippery for such a big guy, which you don’t see a whole lot. He’s had that since he was little.

“Kevin actually made a joke the day of the draft, saying, ‘You’ll be picked by the Hawks; don’t worry about it,’ and then it ended up being true.”

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