Timing is everything for Hendricks’ debut with Oilers

Twenty-four hours after Matt Hendricks was traded from Nashville to Edmonton, he stood inside the visiting locker room at Xcel Energy Center, answering questions from reporters about a wild ride that is the life of a professional athlete.

Matt Hendricks, left, made his Edmonton Oliers dubut in St. Paul Jan. 17 after the Blaine native was traded from Nashville one day earlier.

Matt Hendricks, left, made his Edmonton Oliers dubut in St. Paul Jan. 17 after the Blaine native was traded from Nashville one day earlier.Photo by Rick Orndorf

“It’s such a whirlwind time I just want to show up and play a hockey game,” he said after the morning practice. “It’s going to be a little bit emotional but that’s what we want.”

Hendricks, 32, a Blaine High School graduate, admitted it was tough to leave Nashville after such a short time there, but realizes its part of the game.

He signed with the Predators as a free agent over the summer after three seasons in Washington (2010-13) and parts of two seasons (2008-2010) at Colorado.

“I was finally getting to know everyone in the organization, but I look at this club and the pride it takes to put on the Edmonton jersey, the history and championships and excitement that the fans have for the game of hockey and it’s an exciting opportunity to be part of that,” he said.

Hendricks matched a season-high 23 shifts and the second most ice time this season (16:29), but failed to register a shot with a minus-one rating in Edmonton’s 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild Jan 16. Two nights later the Oilers lost at Winnipeg 3-2 in overtime, a fourth loss in five games.

Blaine native Matt Hedricks makes a quick charge in on the Minnesota goal. Photo by Rick Orndorf

Blaine native Matt Hedricks makes a quick charge in on the Minnesota goal. Photo by Rick Orndorf

But Hendricks continued to produce. He blocked two shots, had six hits, took one shot and fought Mark Stewart in the third period for his 50th National Hockey League fight in 13:24 of ice time. According to the Edmonton Journal story, he took a puck on the ear that needed stitches to fix and blocked a shot with his knee.

Given the short turnaround, Hendricks had a smaller than usual cheering section inside Xcel Energy Center. Hendricks said he talked with his parents just after learning about the trade, but didn’t think many others would be able to get to the game.

Hendricks had two goals and two assists in 44 games with the Predators, which is in sixth place in the competitive NHL Central Division (20-21-7, 47 points).

According to Hendricks, he wasn’t comfortable in Nashville and had an idea that a move was possible given how many players with a similar skill set were on the roster. Add in a need for a goalie after several injuries and the result was a move.

He nearly exclusively played in the right wing spot after playing at left wing and center for previous teams.

It took him out of his comfort zone to work on the right side, but he was getting used to it, Hendricks said. “I was uncomfortable receiving pucks but it was a little bit of a battle and I don’t think I was playing my best hockey,” he said.

Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said Hendricks fills a need on the ice and locker room with his high character and labeled the former Blaine High School and St. Cloud Huskies forward as a “true professional and we’re looking for that to rub off a little.”

During his first practice, Hendricks fell right into his role with the new club, keeping everyone on their toes. He got to know his teammates on the ice with a few quips between drills and spent time with the first-team penalty kill units, both 5-on-4 and 5-on-3.

Nashville and Edmonton are different in that the Predators are a much more veteran-laden team looking to win now, while Edmonton is looking to get out of the cellar of the Pacific Division with several top-end prospects combined with veterans like Ryan Smyth and Andrew Ference.

Saturday night he stayed at right wing on a line with Smyth and Boyd Gordon.

Hendricks looks forward to taking more of a vocal leadership role with the club, full of high-profile younger players full of talent. “That’s my personality,” he said. “I want to bring energy by my play, but I also want to bring energy talking to guys, give them a pat on the shin pads.”

Hendricks met with the Oilers during the summer free agency period, so he knew they were interested in him.

“I really look forward to being part of this,” Hendricks said. “They have some great players, great skills. There’s a happy medium between very physical team and very offensive team and once we find that happy medium we’re going to be a very fun team to watch.”

Jason Olson is at
jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

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