BUFFALO – There are, of course, good and bad things about the nomadic hockey life Adam Clendening has experienced for three seasons, the New York Rangers defenseman said.
On one hand, the Wheatfield native has seen six NHL cities and met hundreds of teammates. On the other hand, five years into his pro career, Clendening, 24, has never lasted longer than 20 games in one spot.
“You always want to find a home and be able to play every night,” Clendening, who returned Thursday after sitting 11 straight games, said prior to the Rangers’ 4-3 loss to the Sabres inside KeyBank Center. “So it’s been fun but difficult.”
Consider what has transpired since the Chicago Blackhawks, who gave Clendening a four-game look, traded him to the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 29, 2015.
– Clendening played 17 games with the Canucks before they traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 28, 2015.
– He lasted nine games with the Penguins before they dealt him to the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 15.
– The Ducks played him zero games before the Edmonton Oilers claimed him on waivers Jan. 27.
– He played 20 times with the Oilers, recording six of his 14 NHL points. Still, they didn’t re-sign him. The Rangers inked him to a one-year, $600,000 contract July 1.
Naturally, it’s nice feeling being wanted, Clendening said.
“But at the same time, maybe just not (wanted) enough,” he said. “It’s part of the game, part of the business. Hopefully, (I can) find a home for a little bit longer.”
Like in his other stops, Clendening has become the team’s seventh defenseman. He hadn’t played since Nov. 6. Thursday was just his second appearance in the last last 20 games and his seventh this season.
But Clendening respects the dues-paying process.
“Wanting to play but also realizing the situation you’re in is part of realizing the position that I am in,” he said. “(There are) probably not too many guys in the room that also haven’t done the same thing and waited their time.”
His time could arrive someday. Right-handed, puck-moving defensemen with offensive upside – he averaged 53 points in his two full AHL seasons – are always coveted.
Clendening said he didn’t know what kind of role to expect with the Rangers. He played the first five games this season.
“It’s not really up to me,” he said. “I understand we have a winning team and we have a lot of veterans. It’s hard to change things when you’re winning.”
The first-place Rangers had already scored 88 goals, a stunning 3.7 a game, entering Thursday. Clendening earned his third assist on Rick Nash’s second-period power-play goal. He was also penalized for holding Jack Eichel late, which led to Eichel’s tying goal.
Thursday was Clendening’s third NHL appearance in Buffalo.
Late in Thursday’s morning skate, Sabres goalie Robin Lehner, who’s nursing a sore hip, left the ice first.
Did it mean he was ready to play? The first goalie off almost always starts.
No, backup Anders Nilsson played. Lehner couldn’t dress for the game, so the Sabres recalled goalie Linus Ullmark from the Rochester Americans.
Update: Ullmark has been sent back down.
“It feels 90 percent, it’s a little stiff still,” Lehner said. “But, yeah, it feels good.”
The Swede could play Saturday afternoon against the Boston Bruins, Bylsma said.
Lehner said he pulled his hip on the Senators’ first goal early in Tuesday’s 5-4 win in Ottawa. He felt OK after the goal, but he didn’t have any work for a few minutes. When he faced some action and went to play the puck, he felt it.
Rangers rookie Jimmy Vesey wasn’t sure how Sabres fans would react to him Thursday.
“I’m not really worried about that,” Vesey said prior to the game.
Not surprisingly, they booed Vesey, who passed on signing with the Sabres after they acquired his rights June 20, each time he touched the puck.
“At the end of the day, I made one decision,” Vesey said. “It might’ve (ticked) some people off. It was never my intention.”
That decision to become an unrestricted free agent rankled some people.
Most NCAA players – Vesey played four seasons at Harvard University, winning the Hobey Baker Award in 2015-16 – sign with the team that drafted them. But Vesey, 24, spurned the Nashville Predators, who selected him 66th overall in 2012, and made it known he planned to hit the open market.
“Everyone has their opinion on it,” the winger said. “I talked to my agents and my family. We thought it was the best decision and route to go.”
While Vesey met with the Sabres in July, it was apparent early on he had no intention of coming here. After about six weeks of some odd media coverage – reporters starting showing up to his summer league games outside Boston – he signed with the Rangers on Aug. 19.
“I couldn’t be happier with my decision right now,” he said.
Vesey clearly wanted no part of any questions about the Sabres and why he hit free agency.
“It’s all behind me,” he said. “We’re 25 games in right now, so that’s pretty much all in the past.”
Vesey has fit in nicely with the Rangers, scoring eight goals and 15 points.
“It’s been an awesome experience so far, kind of a different lifestyle than college, being a pro and dedicating all my time to hockey,” he said.