By Chris Block
The Chicago Blackhawks made a deal late Thursday sending third-year pro Adam Clendening to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for the rights to Gustav Forsling, 18, in a swap of prospect defenseman.
Forsling currently plays defense for Linköping in the Swedish Hockey League and has been a defense partner of 2013 Chicago Blackhawks 2nd round draft pick, Carl Dahlstrom. And the two have skated on the same team for the past three seasons in the Linköping organization. So, the Blackhawks know Forsling well.
Clendening, 22, was a Blackhawks’ 2nd round selection (36th overall) in 2011, a pick Chicago got from the Atlanta Thrashers the previous summer (along with defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy) in exchange for Andrew Ladd.
In this trade the Blackhawks now provide a somewhat clearer picture of the future of their blue line. Clendening will report to to the Utica (NY) Comets, the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, but could be called up to the NHL club soon where he’d be reunited with former IceHogs’ teammate and defense partner, Ryan Stanton. [Update 1/30/15 2pm CST: Clendening was recalled by the Vancouver to the Canucks on Friday. He was headed to Vancouver from Chicago on Friday. Canucks host Buffalo tonight. Clendening could be in the line up.]
Clendening, our 2015 #4 ranked Blackhawks’ prospect, appeared in 4 games with the Hawks earlier this season, scoring a goal in his first NHL game at Calgary on November 20 and picking up an assist at Edmonton in his next game two nights later. Clendening’s first NHL goal was a power play tally on his second shift in the league.
Forsling and Clendening are comparable players only at different stages of their development in being three years and four months apart.
Clendening left Boston University after two seasons with the Terriers, with he and the Blackhawks both feeling he didn’t have much left to prove, or gain by staying at the collegiate level. He broke out in his second season in the AHL, leading the Rockford IceHogs in scoring with 12 goals and 59 points in 74 games played.
This season hasn’t been as easy for Clendening to duplicate. He’s at a point in his development now where he’s on the borderline of being ready to take the next step into the National Hockey League, yet his defensive game remains a work in progress.
Through 38 games in Rockford this season, Clendening has 1 goal and 12 assists.
“I think I’m doing the right things with and without [the puck]. I think my game as a whole has really improved,” Clendening said after the IceHogs last game prior to the All-Star Break, a 3-0 win over Utica, coincidentally the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL affiliate. The Canucks had multiple representatives on hand for the game in Rockford.
“Points wise, it’ll come,” Clendening continued. “But if it doesn’t, it’s not too big of a concern for me.”
With the expected departures of Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival, both UFAs before next season, spots will open up on the Blackhawks blue line but with the emergence of Trevor van Riemsdyk likely solidifying a spot going forward, and David Rundblad already being a Stan Bowman favorite, that would have left Clendening to compete with Klas Dahlbeck and Stephen Johns for the number 6 or 7 defense position next season. Its also highly likely the Hawks will bring in a veteran on a cheap contract to compete for that spot as well. Dahlbeck is an impending restricted free agent as well. There just aren’t enough spots to go around and Bowman was bound to lose someone or be forced to deal a prospect from a position of weakness later on, so he did the right thing in getting proper value in return now.
Clendening has improved his defensive play since his rookie year. He competes hard and has a bit of a nasty streak at times as well. He’s only six-foot, but he’s strong for his size and was one of the best conditioned players tested in Blackhawks’ training camp.
Forsling recently competed for Sweden at the World Junior tournament and led all defensemen in scoring at that tournament at 3 goals and 5 assists in 7 games. Sweden lost to Slovakia in the bronze medal game. Forsling assisted Sweden to the 2nd best power play in the tournament behind Canada, the gold medal winners.
The Linköping native dropped in the draft and was picked by the Canucks at #126 in the 5th round, well under where some pre-draft prognosticators had Forsling pegged to go. The Hawks selected Luc Snuggerud (our #15 ranked Blackhawks prospect for 2015) later in that 5th round.
Forsling and Clendening are similar in height and build, and effectively play the same type of game. Though, Forsling in a left-handed shot, which a majority of Blackhawks blue line prospects coming up are, with the exception of Johns, Ville Pokka, Michael Paliotta and Robin Press.
Adam Clendening in his final game as an IceHog, Sat Jan 24 in Rockford
Clendening was the longest-tenured member of the Rockford IceHogs at the time of this trade. In 185 games in Rockford, he posted 22 goals, 96 assists and was a plus-18. The move now makes Klas Dahlbeck the longest-tenured ‘Hog at 183 games [15 goals, 35 assists, +32].
The trade moves Clendening to an organization where he has a better opportunity to play in the NHL, as Clendening is nearing the end of his 3-year entry level contract and would either have to make the Blackhawks next year out of training camp, or be exposed to waivers where the Hawks could lose him and get nothing in return.
Forsling has a heavy shot, has good instincts and likes to jump into the fray offensively.
“Defensively, Forsling is aggressive and quick to step up on his opposition,” the Future Considerations 2014 NHL Draft Guide wrote. “He uses his stick nicely to close off ice and puck carriers and force them off their angles. He isn’t afraid to get involved down low, and exhibits decent strength and physicality against bigger opponents.”
Forsling has two years remaining on his contract with Linköping. He signed a three-year deal with the club in October. He has yet to sign an NHL entry level deal.
To compensate for the loss of Clendening, the Blackhawks also re-assigned defenseman Dillon Fournier from the Indy Fuel (ECHL) to AHL-Rockford. Fournier is a 2012 2nd round draft pick (48 overall) of the Hawks who played in two games for the IceHogs earlier this season.