Clendening, Nieto Continue Similar Paths
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Reporter
Boston University rising sophomores Adam Clendening and Matt Nieto already have quite a bit in common. Now they can add that they were both selected in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft.
Clendening (a defenseman) went 36th overall to the Chicago Blackhawks, while Nieto (a forward) went 11 picks later to the San Jose Sharks.
Clendening and Nieto both saw their draft stocks go on a rollercoaster ride over the last year. Before their freshmen seasons started, many prognosticators thought both had a good chance of being first-round picks. But both of them got off to slow starts and by mid-season, NHL’s Central Scouting had Nieto and Clendening ranked 55th and 61st, respectively, among North American skaters.
“I think it was more of an adjustment, getting used to the rinks, the players, the bigger, stronger guys, the atmospheres, that kind of thing,” Clendening said Saturday. “Just the adjustment I think is what it was. I don’t think it was really a struggle, just kind of a learning curve. That’s how college hockey is. That’s how hard it is to play.”
The duo said they tried not to worry about where people had them ranked or what people were saying about their seasons.
“Those rankings, they are what they are,” Nieto said. “Me and Adam did a pretty good job of avoiding that kind of stuff and just focusing on the season and the team’s success.”
While ignoring draft rankings might’ve been relatively easy, something else that happened over winter break wasn’t. Nieto and Clendening were both among the final cuts from the U.S. World Junior team that went on to take bronze in Buffalo. Not making the team was especially disappointing for Clendening, who grew up in the Buffalo area, but he said he just tried to use it as motivation for the second half of the season.
“It was definitely a motivator,” Clendening said. “You try to take something negative and turn it into a positive. I think I did a pretty good job of that, maybe trying to prove why they should’ve taken me.”
Clendening and Nieto both bounced back strong in the second semester. Clendening tallied four goals and 13 assists in BU’s final 22 games and ended up leading all Hockey East freshman defensemen in both assists (21) and points (26). Nieto registered five goals and 12 assists over the same span and wound up seventh among Hockey East rookies in points (23) and tied for fourth in goals (10).
Like Clendening, Nieto said the biggest key to his turnaround was just getting used to the college game.
“Any time you go to a new league, there’s going to be an adjustment period, and that’s what I went through,” Nieto said. “Once I got it figured out, I was very successful. I started playing with confidence and got more comfortable, and that really affected my play.”
Nieto and Clendening both said they were excited just to get drafted and that not being first-round picks wasn’t disappointing at all.
“There are plenty of guys who went in the second round, third round that are as successful or more successful than guys who went in the first round,” Clendening said. “You look around at Nick Lidstrom, Shea Weber, guys that are stars in the league right now that weren’t picked in the first round.”
Both were happy with the teams that selected them, too. Clendening said it was “very special” to be picked by an Original Six team that won the Stanley Cup two seasons ago. Nieto, a native of Long Beach, Calif., said he “couldn’t be any happier” after getting drafted by a California team.
Before they play in the NHL, though, Nieto and Clendening know they still have some improvements to make next season with the Terriers, who also saw defenseman Garrett Noonan get selected in the fourth round (112th overall) by the Nashville Predators.
“I would have to say the physical part of my game,” Nieto said when asked what he’s working on the most. “I think I need to go to the hard areas a bit more. And I need to use my speed better in all situations, with or without the puck.”
Clendening gave a much broader answer.
“I think everything,” he said. “I have to get bigger, I have to get stronger, I have to get faster. Be more responsible defensively, be more responsible offensively. Just an all-around game. I want to get better everywhere and try and become an NHL player as soon as I can.”