Alain Vigneault‘s inability to recognize the New York Rangers’ puck moving woes are costing Adam Clendening valuable much deserved ice time.We’ve read this story before.
Although New York Rangers’ head coach Alain Vigneault is regarded as one of the preeminent hockey minds in the sport, his stubbornness occasionally gets in the way of his ability to pick personnel.
Since former GM Glen Sather granted control of head coaching operations of the Blueshirts to Vigneault back in 2013, we’ve seen Vigneault’s inflexibility expose itself on multiple occasions. In his second year in charge, it was Tanner Glass who was regularly penciled into the lineup despite disappointing in both ends of the ice.
Last year, it was 2010 first round selection Dylan McIlrath who was the odd man out, as the 6-foot-5 righty only appeared in 34 just games. It was the wounded Dan Girardi and defensively restrained Dan Boyle were the ones who held places in the lineup as McIlrath helplessly watched on from the press box.
Now, these past instances can be warranted in some ways. In 2014-2015, the veteran Glass provided the Rangers with some much needed physical play, while McIlrath lacked discipline and was incessantly out of position during his short-lived tenure on Broadway.
This time around, it involves the young journeyman Adam Clendening.
The 24-year old, who had bounced around the NHL the year prior, signed a one-year deal with the Blueshirts during the offseason with the expectation (from many) that he would serve as the team’s seventh defenseman and would only see ice time when injuries took place.
Throughout the preseason, however, it became evident that Clendening was capable of more than being just an extra blueliner. The New Yorker’s well-known puck-moving prowess was on showcase in the early going. With every successful zone exit and tape to tape pass through the neutral zone that Clendening executed, the more and more the Rangers’ faithful thirsted for him to be in the top six to open up the season.
That dream came to fruition when it was announced that the former Chicago Blackhawks’ second-round pick would be in the lineup on opening night against the New York Islanders due to Kevin Klein‘s back spasms.
His impressive play continued during his time in the lineup. The Boston University alum continued to delight fans with his passing at even strength and as the quarterback of the power play. He began his tenure in the Big Apple alongside Brady Skjei on the third pairing, but moved up the depth chart when Dan Girardi was forced out of the lineup.
When the two (Klein and Girardi) returned to full health, however, Vigneault made Clendening the odd man out, despite playing solid hockey to open up the year. Many fans were outraged that Vigneault elected to keep Nick Holden in the lineup (who has since proved many wrong) over Clendening, but it was overlooked because of the Blueshirts’ dynamite offense.
Today, Vigneault’s puzzling decision has become enlightened as the Rangers are in the midst of their first slump of the young season. Clendening has appeared in just one game since his transfer from the ice to the seats and calls for his reintroduction to the lineup have increased as Klein’s level of play has dwindled.
The Blueshirts’ struggles have been highlighted by a lack of ability to move the puck from zone to zone. Teams have begun to stuff three or four guys between the bluelines and the Rangers have struggled to adjust. The Blueshirts have resorted to more of a “dump and chase” mentality over the last couple of games, but that hasn’t worked much either due to the lack of a forechecking presence.
Clendening would be an easy fix. His puck movement would allow for crisp exits out of the defensive zone and provide the Rangers with a guy who can run the man advantage at the point.
His addition to the top six would finally take the struggling Klein out of the lineup. The 31-year old has been a turnover machine of late and lacks the offensive presence that made him so successful last term.
Yes there are reasons as to why Clendening was a part of five different organizations last year, and yes Clendening has issues on the defensive side of the puck, but his implementation to the lineup from Vigneault must be imminent. The Rangers have a glaring need for someone who can move the puck up the ice and that’s exactly what Clendening provides.
The move doesn’t have to be permanent. It could just be a one or two game stint to give Klein or Girardi a rest. But it would be nothing short of foolish for Vigneault to continue to let Clendening’s talent rot away on the bench.