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Hawks rookie Adam Clendening adjusting well to life in NHL

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — There was a moment in Vancouver on Sunday when Daniel and Henrik Sedin hopped over the boards and charged into the Blackhawks zone toward Adam Clendening. The rookie wasn’t supposed to see the Sedins. He was supposed to be protected — offensive-zone faceoffs, power-play shifts, favorable defensive assignments. But here came two of the top players of their generation, against a guy playing in his third NHL game.

And nothing happened.

“There wasn’t like a panic [from the coaches] for me to get off,” Clendening said. “It was nice to see them kind of building a little bit of trust for me in my own end. It’s kind of awesome to see.”

Everything’s kind of awesome right now for Clendening, who was called up in the wake of fellow rookie defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk’s fractured patella. Clendening has played in all four games of the circus trip and has acquitted himself nicely, with a power-play goal on the first shot of his career in Calgary, and an assist in Edmonton two days later.

Even off the ice, being an NHL player has been a dream, with swanky travel and five-star hotels that you usually don’t get as a member of the Rockford IceHogs.

“I just can’t seem to get out of some of these beds sometimes,” Clendening said with a laugh.

Much like van Riemsdyk before him, Clendening has slid nicely into the Hawks lineup, a savvy and responsible defender who can be a capable playmaker when the opportunity arises. He climbed the organizational depth chart on the strength of his offense, but as a rookie, the 2011 second-round pick is erring on the side of caution.

“Keep it simple in our end, from the red line back,” Clendening said. “If you’ve got nothing, don’t make anything out of nothing. And then let your instincts take over going forward. I think with everybody here, there’s a little bit of freedom in the offensive zone, which I like.”

There are growing pains, of course. Off the ice, he’s getting used to new arenas and unusual sleep patterns, as the Hawks usually fly out of a city immediately following a game, not the next morning. On the ice, Clendening lost his man on Maxime Talbot’s goal in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Colorado, and he didn’t play the final 13 minutes of the game, as Joel Quenneville leaned on his five veteran defensemen in a one-goal game, instead.

There’s trust there. After all, he’s played four straight games while David Rundblad has been a healthy scratch each night. But it’s not 100 percent trust. Not yet.

“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.”

An unexpected one, too. For Clendening and the host of other defensive prospects in the Hawks system, van Riemsdyk’s out-of-nowhere emergence at training camp made the steep climb to the NHL even steeper. One one hand, it was encouraging to see Quenneville give a rookie so much trust and responsibility. On the other, it was one more roster spot locked up.

But van Riemsdyk’s injury opened it back up, and after two-plus seasons of toiling in Rockford, Clendening is finally getting the chance he’s been waiting for.

“It’s unfortunate what happened to him, he looked pretty good,” Clendening said. “But I’ve just been patient and waited for my time. It’s been fun. When I came up, I didn’t expect some of the roles I’ve been getting, or to be trusted to start a shift in my own end, or to get caught out there against the other team’s second line. I’m just trying to take it all in stride. So far, it’s everything I ever dreamed of.”


Twitter: @marklazerus