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Clendening Hopes Talents Will Translate to NHL

by Josh Carney / Pittsburgh Penguins

Nearly six months to the day of his first trade from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Vancouver Canucks, defenseman Adam Clendening is on the move again, this time to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Clendening was part of a trade that included forward Nick Bonino and a 2016 second-round pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a 2016 third-round pick.

At just 22 years old, Clendening wasn’t expecting another trade – at least in the same calendar year.

“I’m pretty shocked,” Clendening said just a few hours after the trade was announced. “(I) really had no idea; I’m actually in Vancouver right now. I was up here training and stuff, getting ready for the season. I got a nice, early wake-up call at 7:30 (Tuesday) morning, and basically that’s all that happened.”

Clendening is excited to join the Pens organization. A versatile, right-handed puck-moving defenseman on the blue line, Clendening is able to read the ice much like a forward does with the puck on his stick. With quick hands, good reach and a deceptive shot from the point, Clendening appears to fit the mold of defensemen needed in head coach Mike Johnston’s up-tempo system.

With a need for more production and depth on the back end, Clendening sees the obvious fit with the organization moving forward, even if he hasn’t had much time to digest what has happened in the past 24 hours.

“That’s one of the first things I did was look at the roster,” Clendening said. “I don’t know too many people – big fan of Kris Letang, but I don’t know too many guys there. I played against Brian Dumoulin in college in the Boston area where we went to school, but other than that I’m not too familiar with the other guys. From what I was told, they need some production from the backend and they don’t have many right hand shots. But it looks pretty promising on paper, if that’s the way you want to look at it.“

The production from a numbers standpoint is impressive, especially for such a young defenseman. While at Boston University from 2010-12, Clendening put up 59 points (9G-50A) in 77 career games. Due to that production on the blue line, the Blackhawks drafted the 6-foot, 190-pound defenseman with the 36th overall pick (second round) in the 2011 NHL Draft.

After joining the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL following his sophomore season at Boston University, Clendening caught fire. In his rookie season with the IceHogs, he put up 46 points (9G-37A) in 73 games. Following up his impressive debut season, Clendening recorded 59 points (12G-47A) in 74 games during the 2013-14 season.

Following two strong seasons in the AHL, Clendening earned the call-up to the NHL, skating in four games with Chicago. He made his NHL debut on Nov. 20 on the road against the Calgary Flames. In that game, Clendening scored his first career NHL goal on his first shot, beating Flames goalie Jonah Hiller over his blocker with a one-timer from the point. The patience, vision and shot were all on full display leading up to the goal.

Traded to the Canucks on Jan. 29 for defensive prospect Gustav Forsling, Clendening played in 17 straight games from Feb. 1 to March 7 in a Canucks sweater before being sent back down to the AHL to help the Utica Comets in their Calder Cup playoff run.

Despite the shuttling back and forth from the AHL to the NHL, Clendening learned how to play at the highest level of hockey while adjusting to a new team, a new system and a new environment.

“I learned that I can be successful,” Clendening said. “I knew I could do it at the American League level. Obviously, I did it for two years and had really, really solid seasons - was a plus player and put up some points - but I wasn’t really sure about the NHL. Everybody always says it’s a different level. I played those four games with the ‘Hawks and then 20 or so in Vancouver. I realized I don’t look out of place, I can play at the same speed and make the plays that I’m used to. I can play with confidence and I can produce.”

The Pens are hoping the young defenseman can continue to build off of his success at the AHL level and transition to the NHL in due time.

“Adam’s an up-and-coming defenseman,” Pens general manager Jim Rutherford said. “He’s a skilled offensive player. He’s a young guy and he’s still feeling his way, but he’s got a good skill level – good offensive skill level – and he’s continuing to learn how to play the defensive side of the game. At his age he has lots of time to do that, and we feel that there’s a good upside to him.”

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