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By: Mike Peck
Photo courtesy of the Chicago Blackhawks
07/18/2012 9:20 AM - Another Chicago Blackhawks’ prospect camp has come and gone and when you break it down, there are two sets of players that attend the camp. Draft picks whose progress is being closely tracked by the Blackhawks brass, and the other skaters looking to grab the attention of those same hockey operation executives for a chance in the organization.

For defenseman Adam Clendening, last week’s camp was his second in the Windy City, but this time around, he’s preparing for the professional game instead of returning to Boston University. Not that he wasn’t trying to grab the attention of his future bosses though, as he felt his second impression was just as important as the first one.

“I’m just looking to have a big summer,” said Clendening. “My body has to get bigger for pro hockey. College has been great for me physically, developing. You play a lot more games in the pros and my expectations are just to come in and play the best I can and you never know what happens.”

The Wheatfield, NY native had a successful junior season at BU, tying for the most points from the blueline among all Hockey East defensemen with 33 points, including four goals and 29 assists. He was also named a Hockey East First Team All-Star last season.

Clendening, however, elected to trade in the books for a pay check when he signed a three-year entry level contract with the Blackhawks on June 1, forgoing his senior season with the Terriers. He’ll add more depth to Chicago’s defensive core, but also knows his spot in the team’s pecking order.

“Every kid wants to play in the NHL, every guy that first turns pro wants a taste of that,” commented Clendening. “You have to keep focused and know what you’re there for. Know that you have to improve on a lot of things. That is another step from the AHL. You just have to go out there and play your best and try to win a spot.

“Brandon Saad is a great example. He ended up with the Hawks for a couple of games (last season). It’d be awesome to do that, but if I don’t, then I go back to Rockford and improve and see if I can get up there at one point or another.”

Defense was once thought of as a weak spot in the team’s system, the Blackhawks, however, have stock piled a group of young defensemen that could play in Chicago some day. Clendening joins Dylan Olsen, Ryan Stanton, Joe Lavin, Shawn Lalonde and Klas Dahlbeck, forming a strong core of prospects on the back end.

“Our group from last season will be a year older with the returning group this season,” said IceHogs Head Coach Ted Dent. “We throw in some of these young kids that we’ve been talking about (Clendening and Dahlbeck). It’s not going to be as many new guys that we’ve had the past couple of years. So hopefully that will help the whole process with our group.”

Dent, along with Rockford assistants Steve Poapst and Ben Simon, were on the ice and in the stands observing at last week’s prospect camp, knowing that many of the players on the ice could pass through Rockford on their way to Chicago. It’s not just getting to see the players in action on the ice that’s important to the coaching staff, but also getting familiar with personalities off the ice.

Plus, it allows the prospects to test their skills against other prospects instead of the pressures of competing against established professionals at Blackhawks training camp. As for Clendening, Dent has liked what he’s seen so far, but knows from experience that you have to be cautious with these young skaters.

“He had some good numbers in college, almost a point a game as a defenseman,” said Dent. “He competes and seems to be a good, strong skater. He’s still just 19-years old, so I’m sure there will be an adjustment period.”

Clendening didn’t need an adjustment period last week, as he was competing in his second prospect camp after getting drafted in the second round (#36 overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Everything from expectations of workouts to familiarity with the staff made his second experience at the summer camp that much smoother on and off the ice.

“You just get a little more comfortable your second time around,” said Clendening. “You know some of the people and not as intimidated with the workouts and stuff like that. My expectations are the same. Just come in here and leave a good impression.”

The biggest adjustment is still on the horizon for Clendening. As the d-man gets deeper into his summer conditioning program, he’ll try to get himself physically ready for a professional schedule that is twice as long as his previous collegiate one.

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