Clendening getting closer to Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks like where defenseman prospect Adam Clendening is heading with his game.

Clendening hasn’t broke through to the NHL just yet, but he’s getting closer, and his 2013-14 season was another step in that direction. He continued to be one of most productive defenseman prospects and made strides in improving his defensive game while with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL.

The Blackhawks haven’t rushed Clendening partly because he’s 21, his defensive game has needed work and they’re already stacked with defensemen at the NHL level. He is getting closer, though.

“Right now, he’s on that cusp,” Blackhawks director of hockey administration/general manager of minor league affiliations Mark Bernard said in a recent phone interview. “I think that’s our biggest battle. We have a lot of good young prospects, trying to hold them at bay. Everyone wants to be in the National Hockey League yesterday. You can never spend too much time in the American League basically doing apprenticeship on your craft.

“Adam is still only 21 years old. He’s going to be 22 in October. He came into the league and has had two very strong years. He had 59 points this year and 46 points last year. He’s making all kind of American League honors. He’s come a long way.”

Clendening already possesses the offensive ability to be in the NHL. The Blackhawks knew he had high-end talent when they drafted him in the second round in 2011. He's continued to prove that in his first two seasons in the AHL. He finished second among defensemen with 47 assists and second with 59 points last season.

“He thinks the game at a very high level,” Bernard said. “He has great vision. He has great skill. He can run your power play. With his skill set, he makes plays at the American League level that make me shake my head. Plays that 99 percent of defensemen at the American League can’t make.”

Where Clendening isn’t ahead of everyone yet in his defensive game. It’s something IceHogs coach Ted Dent emphasized with Clendening last season.

“He’s done well, progressed well in the American League,” Dent said in a recent phone interview. “He really worked on his defensive game this year, and his ability to defend and be a plus-player. He’s great along the blue line and the offensive zone and has real good vision. He plays hard every night, empties the tank.

“I think for every young player playing away from the puck and knowing your responsibility and getting it back is a big thing. It’s one of those hard things to do and convincing a young player you have to become a two-way player. You can’t just be really good with the puck. Know your responsibility; you have to work really hard to get back.”

Bernard has also liked Clendening’s progression, but he wouldn’t guarantee that Clendening would be in the NHL next season. Bernard said training camp would help sort that out.

“Where he has worked on improving is skating, and he has gotten a lot better,” Bernard said. “Continuing to get better at his defensive zone play, which every young defenseman has to work.

“One thing we aren’t going to do is promise player call-ups. We can’t do that in June, July, August. Hold tight, you can’t promise that. It has to be on players to play. ... When they come in so young, it’s now trying to make sure they stay patient and wait their turn. Their turn will come. We drafted those guys because they have attributes of their game we like. Adam is no different.”