Matt Hendricks and his new Nashville Predators teammates made their first stop of the season at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Oct. 22.
His first taste of free agency was a bit uncomfortable for Hendricks, a 2000 graduate of Blaine High School who landed with the team that drafted him in the 2000 entry draft.
“Tough decision making but it was exciting and I couldn’t have landed in a better spot.” he said. “It’s a great group of guys here, organization is top notch and we have a good team that plays hockey, in my opinion, the right way. We’re a hard, determined group that doesn’t rely on one specific guy or the power play to score goals. It’s more play-by-committee in all-aspects of the game. It’s a lot of fun.”
The new challenge of figuring out who is going to lead the team each night is a challenge Hendricks embraces.
He joins a Predators club that molds itself around gritty coach Barry Trotz and his playing style, whereas his previous team, Washington, was led by superstars Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and needed power plays to generate goals.
“If the power play wasn’t working in Washington, we weren’t winning too many hockey games,” Hendricks said. “Now, we’re a very gritty team, a stingy team in our own end.”
He said the team’s attention to detail and trust in each other comes from Trotz, who had the Predators off to a 5-3-1 start before Tuesday’s contest.
Hendricks signed a four-year, $7.4 million contract on July 5 after three successful seasons with the Washington Capitals.
Ten games into the young NHL season, Hendricks had 12 shots on goal, 15 penalty minutes and a -3 rating averaging more than 14:00 minutes on the ice.
Signing with the Predators was a “no brainer for me because I had high aspirations of putting on the Nashville sweater,” he said.
“It’s kind of a dream-come-true in a sense,” Hendricks said of joining the club that drafted him in 2000.
Hendricks and his family still call the Twin Cities home and he had many friends and family in the seats Tuesday night.
Hendricks isn’t the lone Minnesotan connection to the Tennessee club. One player Hendricks looked up to growing up in Blaine was Matt Cullen, a standout for the St. Cloud State Huskies.
Hendricks also stood out for the Huskies and that Blaine-to-St. Cloud tradition continues with sophomore Johnny Brodzinski, who led NCAA D-1 rookies with 22 goals and tied a team record for first-year players. He ranked seventh in the nation among rookies with 33 points.
Having a chance to play alongside Cullen is something Hendricks cherishes. “It’s been fun with him on the team, too,” Hendricks said. “He’s a big reason why I went to SCSU.”
Assistant coach Phil Housley is another Minnesotan connection on the Music City club. Housley is in his first season behind an NHL bench after helping Team USA claim the goal medal at the 2013 World Junior Championships and bronze medal as assistant coach for the 2102 World Championships.
Nashville is one of two teams with multiple teenagers on its roster in rookies Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones. The pair rank among the top of rookies in average ice time and scoring.
On helping the younger players find their way through their first NHL season, Hendricks, who is in his sixth season at the top level, said the best way to help them is simply by example.
As the first Predators skater onto the ice for the morning practice session, Forsberg and Jones can learn a lot about finding success in the NHL from Hendricks.
Jason Olson is at