Does it have to be Adam Clendening or Dylan McIlrath for the Rangers?

September 29, 2016, by
adam clendening

Clendening (Photo: Rangers)

Rangers fans were buzzing on Tuesday night. It wasn’t just because hockey was back, or that the Chris Kreider-Mika-Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich line seemed to be clicking either. It was watching Adam Clendening’s performance. Clendening stole the show, as his poise with the puck and ability to make smart passes to start the breakout both at even strength and on the powerplay impressed many.

It impressed so much that Dylan McIlrath seemed like an afterthought. McIlrath didn’t have a bad game either, scoring a goal that demonstrated how far his skating has come. He wasn’t perfect, and neither was Clendening, but after one game it seems like Clendening is now the front runner for the last spot on the blue line over McIlrath.

But does it have to be that way? Why can’t we have both?

Without beating the Dan Girardi/Marc Staal drum –I’m seriously going to try to get through the post without mentioning them, aside from that one time– there are plenty of other options to upgrade the blue line. McIlrath and Clendening each have unique skill sets, in the sense that one is seen as the big, tough defenseman, and the other as the smooth skating puck mover.

But here’s the dirty secret: McIlrath is very quietly a decent puck mover. In limited time last year, he showed that he can make the short, quick pass to start the breakout. He’s not relied upon offensively, but part of playing defense is being proficient at transitioning the game to offense. McIlrath impressed last year in that regard, and it shows up in the numbers.


McIlrath passed the eye test last season, and the numbers show that he should theoretically be able to handle a top-six role with east. Focusing on the right side of the image, McIlrath actually does a great job suppressing shot attempts against while helping generate shot attempts for. That little bit about the first pass out of the zone affects both pieces. It transitions to offense, while preventing the opposition from regaining the puck. He was also a net-positive effect on his teammates.

Clendening, on the other hand, is seen as a guy that can drive offense, but doesn’t do much defensively. We’ve seen what he can do offensively, albeit against a split-Islanders squad in the first game of the preseason. I haven’t seen much of Clendening aside from last night, so I’m going to admittedly over-rely on the numbers from 2015, also known as his non-Edmonton season.


Again focusing on the right side of the graphic, when it comes to generating shot attempts and driving offense, it’s clear that he is a guy you want on the ice. He has good vision, knows how to get the puck up the ice, and transitions the game well. He leaves something to be desired in terms of shot suppression, however again the net result is a positive. We see that in the “Productive Possession” bar, which slides towards a top-four rating. That bar weighs the shot generation effect against the shot suppression effect, and comes to a net-positive or net-negative evaluation. Clendening is a net-positive.

So if both are net-positives, and both provide specific skill sets, why can’t the Rangers have both? They could certainly use both.

As right-handed shots, they are seemingly behind both Girardi (ok I had to mention him here for depth chart purposes, don’t shoot me) and Kevin Klein. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s one or the other to make the team. It just may require a bit of an adjustment on Alain Vigneault’s part, or some savvy matchup jockeying.

Since Clendening is clearly the better offensive player, does it make sense to play him on the left side at even strength? It would open him up a little bit in the offensive zone. This might be an option worth exploring if Brady Skjei’s struggles continue throughout the preseason.

Perhaps rotating them in based on matchup is something AV is considering. A team like LA, which uses size and brute strength to dominate, seems like an ideal situation for McIlrath. Same for Boston. Whereas a team like Pittsburgh, one that uses speed and skating, could be a better matchup for Clendening.

Or perhaps a trade is in the works. The Rangers have 184 forwards, give or take. Packaging one of them with an existing defenseman could create another spot on the blue line. Or maybe this is all just spit balling, and way too soon to tell if one or both can keep it up. There’s still a ton of preseason hockey and training camp left, after all.

"Does it have to be Adam Clendening or Dylan McIlrath for the Rangers?", 5 out of 5 based on 14 ratings.
Categories : Defense


  1. Walt says:

    I’m of the opinion that because we were so poor defensively last season, I want to tighten it up this season. Now having said that, DMC is the better of the two when it comes to defense, he’d be the person I’d want back there to help defend.

    People always gave the kid a bad rap, he can’t skate, he’s too slow, the game has changed and we don’t need goons on this squad, etc., etc. Well, I’m here to say the kid can skate, much better than Danny boy, has a very hard shot, again much better than Dan, and hits like hell. The game has changed, but a good solid, clean check pays dividends long term in a game, get hit a few shots, then you hesitate going into the corners after the puck, looking over your shoulder waiting to get hit again.

    Clendening is smooth on his feet, can move the puck, and has a nice shot. We saw him play against the “C” team the other night, let’s wait and see how he performs against an “A” team before we start talking about possibly looking to unload either of these guys, which is what your hinting at !!!!!!!!!

  2. Jerry says:

    I don’t think it has to be either or, but I also do not have any faith that AV wants McIlrath on his team.
    My opinion is crystal clear. McIlrath has proved he can be a third pair D-man. Last season in an abbreviated sampling of some 34 games or so, he was a +7. He brings an element that none of our other defensemen possess. If Glass doesn’t dress, who protects our skilled forwards and goaltenders? Even if Kreider assumes a bit more aggressive nature, would you rather see him in the box for 5 or McIlrath in the box for 5.
    Sad to say, but unless there is a rash of injuries or a trade McIlrath will be watching from above in street clothes.

  3. Andy says:

    I know we like to talk about moving Girardi…but maybe it’s time to revisiting an old theme here in moving Klein in a package. For better or worse he’s probably our most stable Right D man, but he can also be viewed as blocking one of these 2 out of the lineup. I know we probably need him around for the expansion draft but not a good reason to keep someone who you can trade and get some value back in a package.

  4. Reenavipul says:

    Or you just staple Girardi to the press box. He did not look good with the puck deep in his own end, lost way more 1 on 1 battles than he lost.

  5. Leatherneckinlv says:

    I was impressed by Clendening too, Clendening coming into the picture leans me towards Girardi or Klein trade, not losing McIlrath.
    Everywhere we hear about D-men needing time to learn the game this or that, young D-men making mistakes that they will learn from however this has eluded McIlrath for some reason.
    McILrath is the only one who intimidates, fights and hits which all are contributing factors as well. He has done everything asked of him as far as I can see. He is still a rookie in my eyes.
    Dan Girardi has to be the focus of subtracting from the club, this coming from a fan of his. He has been a warrior for this team. It’s time for him to drop his no-trade clause. Being in Las Vegas will be a win-win-win for Girardi.
    I don’t see him moving until then, so again let performance be the deciding factor and not the contract.
    If Holden impresses tonight then same thing stands for Staal. I like Girardi better than Staal. Staal to me plays with fear and I cant blame him. He has not been the same player since his eye injury. He avoids contact and has lost his trigger finger. Reality is we can get rid of Staal via a trade much easier than Girardi. Time to move Staal first. Edmonton seems a good fit and best part is give us a pick, no player needed.

  6. paulronty says:

    This whole discussion strikes me as premature. McIlrath is a keeper. Clendening may be a smooth puck mover, but I want to see what he does defensively against high quality competition & my guess is he gets moved off the puck easily in the D-zone. We’ll see.

    • Dave says:

      Remember that Clendening is only 23 years old. He’s no seasoned veteran.

      Either way, both are probably better options than last year’s Girardi.

  7. Bloomer says:

    McIIrath was drafted in the 1st round for a reason, he has the skills and size to become an effective National Hockey league defenseman. With each game he plays he continues to improve and demonstrates he is more then capable of playing regularly. Why AV sat him in the press box last year and played a tired Boyle, an injured Klein or Girardi instead is quite frankly- bizarre. Now along comes Glendening another capable young defenceman who also looks ready for a full time regular position. Not that I got anything against Kevin Kline, but he needs to be moved to make room for these young defensemen as Girardi contract makes moving him next too impossible.
    If the Rangers don’t make room for McIIrath they will surely lose him next season. That would be no lost to Dylan as I believe he has a good future ahead of him.

  8. Egelstein says:

    Short answer: No. No it does not need to be one or the other. My opinion: Holden needs to prove himself the same way Clendening does (which is already a tall order for Holden after one Clendening appearance), and Dylan is already in my top 6 most nights. Then again, I wouldn’t be afraid to basically make Staal and Girardi into a platoon type situation, and I’d play the best roster I can possibly put on the ice every given night, regardless of veteran status or how much I like a guy. But, Alain Vigneault, so it probably will be one or the other.

  9. Richter1994 says:

    McIlrath has not shot. His coach will never give it to him and Dylan is not good enough to force his way into the line up. If anything, trade material as a throw in.