Five years have passed since Matt Hendricks was penciled into every lineup during an NHL season, a 48-game sweep in lockout-shortened 2013 with the Washington Capitals.
Since then, Hendricks’ absences have been mostly caused by injury; the veteran was limited to 60 appearances in 2017-18 with the Jets before returning in the playoffs.
A different factor, however, could prevent him from reaching full-time status next season, and that’s his spot on the depth chart.
Hendricks is likely to slot as the 13th forward with the Wild, a role that could dole out sporadic action but one he’s ready to embrace after signing a one-year, $700,000 contract on Sunday.
“My personal goal is to get in and try to earn an opportunity,” said the Blaine native and former St. Cloud State player. “But on the reverse side of that, I totally understand when younger guys beat me out for those minutes, beat me out for ice time, and I’m gonna have their back 100 percent.”
In addition to character, Hendricks also offers the Wild versatility.
He can pivot between center and wing, boasting a career .528 win percentage on draws, and is an option for special teams. The 37-year-old had success in recent seasons in Edmonton and Winnipeg as a lightning rod for energy.
“I’m just trying to do my part, whether it be taking faceoffs, helping on the penalty kill,” said Hendricks, who finished with five goals and 13 points last season and has 113 points — and 703 penalty minutes — in 581 career NHL games. “I try and be the jack-of-all-trades and do anything I can to help the team.”
The veteran also has familiarity with Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. Hendricks played for Boudreau when both were in Washington. Boudreau has been trying to get Hendricks to join the Wild since Boudreau arrived in 2016.
“I was really excited when [General Manager] Paul [Fenton] brought him up, said he’d really like to have this guy, and I said, ‘You don’t have to convince me,’ ” Boudreau said. “I know he’s a little old in the tooth right now at 37 years old, but he will bring enthusiasm and drive to every practice. He will bring camaraderie in the room. He’s great in the room, and he was an effective player when he was healthy when he played for Winnipeg.
“The only way he gets hurt a lot is because he does things other people don’t do all the time. He blocks shots. He defends his teammates. He sticks up for teammates. He does a lot of really good things, and he plays hard every shift out there.”
The move made a lot of sense for Hendricks, whose wife, Kim, and three children lived in Minnesota last season while he was in Winnipeg.
Hendricks’ path to the NHL wasn’t easy — he played five minor league seasons, including one in the East Coast League, after his four-year career at St. Cloud State ended in 2004. He made his NHL debut with four games for the Avalanche in 2008-09 before earning a regular berth in the league at age 28.
Along the way he picked up leadership attributes that might end up being the most impactful contribution he makes to the Wild.
While he acknowledged never wanting to be content in the supporting cast, Hendricks realizes how his career has evolved. He can help the group by stirring internal competition as he vies for ice time, and each player understanding his role is vital in the cohesiveness of the team.
“You want to make everyone feel comfortable,” Hendricks said, “and if that’s keeping it light, saying some jokes here and there, that might be part of it. But also making sure no matter where you sit in the lineup or your age on the team, you want everybody feeling comfortable in there and everyone should have the ability to speak up, say their piece and say how they’re feeling. If you’re comfortable, you’ll be a better player.”
Now, being able to deliver this vibe at home is “a dream come true” for Hendricks, who remembers following the North Stars as a kid.
“I’ve got a big smile, ear to ear,” Hendricks said.