When 25-year-old journeyman defenseman Adam Clendening signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets this summer, he knew that he would need a few breaks to crack the NHL lineup.
Just a few months later, he may already have that opportunity.
The Blue Jackets' defensive depth will be tested right off the bat this season, with three of their top defensemen injured or coming off of injury. Seth Jones will miss 4-6 weeks with a sprained knee. Ryan Murray is out longer than day-to-day but isn't skating, after taking a skate blade to the groin. Zach Werenski, who will play in Friday's dress rehearsal game at Nationwide Arena vs. Pittsburgh, hasn't played in a preseason game yet and it's unknown if he'll be healthy enough to play in the season opener Oct. 4 in Detroit.
It also illuminates the departures of Ian Cole and Jack Johnson, who can both log a ton of minutes.
But Clendening could be the stop-gap solution. This is his seventh (seventh!) organization, and his first game with the Blue Jackets will be his 87th career NHL game. He's shown well so far in the preseason, and with Jones injured, Savard and Clendening are the lone right-handed shots in the defense corps.
While three other defensemen – Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan, and Gabriel Carlsson – may be ahead of Clendening, the fact that all three are left-hand shots may be an advantage for Clendening. Is it ideal? No, but it's an opportunity.
"That definitely sucks for him, for sure, and (for) us as a team." – Clendening on Jones' injury.
The NHL doesn't wait on injuries to heal, and this team must trudge forward. Savard and Markus Nutivaara, which could be a solid second-pairing for the Blue Jackets, may be promoted to first-pairing duties.
A healthy Werenski would leave Kukan, Harrington, Carlsson, and Harrington fighting for three playing spots. Clendening isn't going to make people forget about Jones, but the fact that he's a right-handed shot could give him an opportunity to not just make the team, but to play with Werenski, who's used to playing with a "righty."
Just three months ago, Clendening was an afterthought. He was an organizational depth defenseman that would be parked in the AHL and would move on to another franchise next July. Now, it looks like he'll have another chance to prove himself in the NHL.
"I obviously want to play in the NHL and try to find a home," he said. "I've bounced around a little bit in that role, so I'd like to find somewhere I could maybe try to solidify myself and play to my strengths, with (that) style of play. That's what I'm looking for."
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