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.


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