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Adam Clendening: "The quicker you move the puck, the easier the game is."

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The above quote comes from Clendening himself.

It perfectly describes what ideally is a big part of the way the Penguins play. But it hasn't been, with the Penguins finding themselves pinned in their own zone (and then outshot) quite regularly. Be it because of some of their players struggling to start the season, or because of adjustments to the way they play compared to last season, or a combination of both. It's clear that it needs to change.

Clendening is known for being a very good puck-mover, which makes him perfect for the Penguins. Similar to the way Scuderi hurts the Penguins by just being on the ice, Clendening has a good chance of helping them in small, but important ways.

Clendening started his NHL career almost exactly a year ago, wearing a Blackhawks sweater in a 4-1 win against the Calgary Flames. In that game he scored his first NHL goal on his second shift. He added hist first assist a game later against the Edmonton Oilers.

Joel Quenneville had this to say about him after his first few NHL games:

"We like his game," Quenneville said. "He’s helped our power play, as well. He’s got a nice shot off the point, has good play recognition and [makes] direct plays, as well. It’s been a good start for him."

Shortly after, Clendening was sent down to the AHL again. Two months later, he got traded to the Vancouver Canucks, where he played 17 games and was one of the few players with a positive shot differential, before he finished the season in the AHL with a deep playoff run to the Calder Cup Final.

AHL All-Star

After a short NCAA career, Clendening had an impressive AHL run. In his first season at age 20, he had 46 points in 73 games. In AHL history, only six 20-year old defensemen had more points. A few standouts:

  • PK Subban, 53 points in 77 GP, 2009-2010
  • Mike Green, 43 points in 56 GP, 2005-2006
  • Sergei Gonchar, 42 points in 61 GP, 1994-1995
  • Roman Josi, 40 points in 69 GP, 2010-2011

One season later, Clendening improved on that, with 59 points in 74 games. He led the Rockford IceHogs in scoring, and that season would be the second-highest scoring season by an 21-year old AHL defenseman in league history.

Again, a few standouts from that list:

  • Cody Franson, 52 points in 76 games, 2008-2009
  • Sami Vatanen, 45 points in 62 games, 2012-2013
  • Dustin Byfuglien, 44 points in 63 games, 2006-2007

But for every Subban or Vatanen, there seems to be a Marc-Andre Gragnani, or a Chris Armstrong - defensemen who never really managed to secure a NHL roster spot, despite very good AHL production.

Here is what his former AHL coach had to say about Clendening a year ago, in this ESPN article from Scott Powers:

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."

Corey Pronman, a well-regarded writer covering prospects, on Clendening:

"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."

Prospect Cohort Success model

Josh Weissbock and other writers from Canucks Army have developed the Prospect Cohort Success model. It looks at prospects and the NHL success and production of comparable players.

The PCS system finds the closest matches for a particular player in terms of age, league, height, and points, then calculates the percentage of that player's peers who play over 200 NHL games (PCS%) and the NHL points per game of those peers who successfully made the NHL (PCS p/GM). Think of PCS% as a metric to estimate the risk a prospect may or may not become an NHL regular, while PCS p/GM gives you a sense as to what the players potential may be if they make it.

During the time where Clendening still was part of the Canucks, they looked at his comparables:

With Clendening's impressive AHL season, 52% and 57% of comparable players have played at least 200 NHL games. The production of his comparables has been between 0.3-0.4 points per game. Last season, the only Penguins d-man who finished with more was Kris Letang (he had 0.8 points per game).

Maatta and Cole both had around 0.4 points per game, and Martin and Ehrhoff finished the season with 0.3.

League-wide, a few other d-men with similar production in 2014-2015:

  • 0.4 points per game: Ekblad, Boychuk, E.Johnson, Stralman, Leddy, Franson, McDonagh, Fowler, Hamhuis, Niskanen, Seabrook
  • 0.3 points per game: Trouba, Jones, Tanev, Demers, Chara, Vlasic, Gelinas

Another Good Pair

In Chicago, Clendening played together with Michal Rozsival. In Vancouver, most of his ice time was spent playing next to Ryan Stanton, though he also saw some minutes with Luca Sbisa and Dan Hamhuis. Clendening's numbers have been positive relative to his teammates before he joined the Penguins, and so far that trend has continued.

In the last three games after returning to the lineup, Clendening has been paired with Ian Cole. Their results have been impressive, especially considering how most other Penguins d-men have struggled. Cole and Letang were like oil and water together, and Scuderi and Maatta haven't looked much better. Dumoulin and Lovejoy have had the most stable success 20 games into the season, but another pairing playing well is sorely needed.

Cole and Clendening in the last three games, at 5v5:

  • 3 goals for, 1 against
  • Clendening: 66 CF%
  • Cole: 63 CF%
  • Penguins without them on the ice: 45-46 CF%
  • On the ice for 18 scoring chances for, 9 against
  • Penguins without them on the ice: 28 scoring chances for, 41 against

Both of them haven't faced the other teams' top pairings and lines, and both have seen limited minutes behind the first and second pairing. But the same way the steady support from forwards like Matt Cullen is important for the success of the team, so is a strong third pairing.

Mike Johnston on the Cole and Clendening pairing:

"(Cole and Clendening) have played well together. You look at chances-against, and they’ve done a really good job in that department, and that’s the key thing for those two guys."

The Penguins defense seemed set until an injury to Olli Maatta opened up a spot. The question will be what happens once Maatta returns. Clendening's performance needs to be strong enough to keep someone else out of the lineup unless other injuries hit. In addition to that, Pouliot keeps producing well in the AHL. Rutherford has talked about the possibility of a trade, though that is unlikely to open up a spot for a d-man. It's more likely to fill one.

Adam Clendening is important because what happens with him is going to be pivotal for the rest of the season. If he is going to continue playing, if he is going to be scratched in favor of worse players, if his spot will be filled via trade, or if some other development happens.