Team management knows it, fans know it and players vying for spots on the 2014-15 squad know it. That means at some point before the season begins, there will be movement on the roster and a job or two will open. With the Hawks' depth defensively, a trade to free cap space could come from the back end, with Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival the most likely targets. That puts young defensemen in the system and on the cusp of the NHL — including Adam Clendening and Stephen Johns — on high alert.
"It's pretty easy to find out they're over the cap," Clendening said during the Hawks' prospect camp that runs through Friday at Johnny's IceHouse West. "You look at it and somehow (if) they get underneath it, a spot opens up. You obviously follow it and you want to play for the Hawks."
Said Johns: "Anyone would be lying to you if they said they didn't look at it and hope for an opportunity. You have to be opportunistic with every situation and when you have a chance, you have to make the most of it."
Along with Klas Dahlbeck, who is not participating in the camp, Clendening and Johns are the top defensive hopefuls looking to make the next step. The latter two took differing paths to make it this far and each is working on developing different aspects of their games. For the offensive-minded Clendening, it has been time spent with Rockford of the AHL shoring up defensive skills. For the bruising, stay-at-home defender Johns, it was focusing on adding more offense during four seasons at Notre Dame.
Since the Hawks selected him in the second round (36th overall) in the 2011 draft, Clendening has displayed the kind of puck movement the Hawks covet from their defensemen. In his second season with the IceHogs, Clendening set a franchise record for defenseman assists with 47. Throw in 12 goals and the AHL first-team All-Star led Rockford in scoring with 59 points.
"I've played two years in the ( AHL and) that time there really helped me," Clendening, 21 [CQ], said. "I worked on my defense and got to play against the other team's best players for two years, and some of those guys now are playing in the NHL.
"The better you are defensively, the easier it is in the NHL and the quicker you get the puck back and I like to play with the puck — it allows me to play to my strength."
The Hawks liked Johns' size and grit when they drafted him in the second round (60th overall) in the 2010 draft and at Notre Dame he displayed the kind of physicality that can be beneficial in the NHL. Johns, who said he patterns his game after the Capitals' Brooks Orpik, had eight goals and 12 assists to go along with 69 penalty minutes in 40 games with Notre Dame. During an eight-game stint with the IceHogs, he had a goal, four assists and four penalty minutes.
"This season I took a big step (offensively)," Johns, 22, said. "I was getting my chances through my college career but they never seemed to go in. This year I felt more comfortable with the puck (and) I was lugging the puck up ice more than I used to.
"It just comes with experience and confidence in yourself and coaches having the confidence in you to make plays. You know you have the ability to do it, it's just whether or not you can do it under pressure."