When he signed on to join the Wild, forward Matt Hendricks understood he might not be a regular in the lineup and would likely rove between the last spot in the forward group and first one out of it.
None of that changed the way Hendricks approached training camp. And after making a solid impression the past few weeks, the 37-year-old Blaine native has a chance to be among the Wild players who skate Thursday in the season opener at Colorado.
“That’s why I’m still playing, is to be a player,” Hendricks said. “So my goal is to play as many games as I can. We’ll see what happens, where I fit here. But I’m going to push every day to try to be part of the group and part of the group that’s on the ice.”
How the fourth line looks for Game No. 1 is still undecided, and matchups are poised to influence whether coach Bruce Boudreau motions Hendricks or winger J.T. Brown into duty.
With how pesky the Avalanche was in the Wild’s preseason finale on Friday, perhaps Hendricks draws in Thursday and Brown debuts against the speedy Golden Knights at home Saturday. Regardless, though, Hendricks, who signed a one-year, $700,000 contract in July, has stood out for his work ethic on the ice.
“He competes so far,” said Boudreau, who previously coached Hendricks with Washington. “… He’s got no fear. He’ll block any shot no matter how sore he is or what’s ailing him.”
Hendricks’ health is actually much better now compared to when he finished last season with the Jets after undergoing offseason surgery on his left knee to reconstruct the MCL and remove part of his meniscus. But the impact he’s made so far hasn’t been limited to his performance on the ice. Hendricks has also been carving out a niche as an uplifting presence off it.
“He knows how to unite a locker room,” Boudreau said.
This ability was honed through the years, from playing alongside the likes of Adam Foote in Colorado and Mike Knuble in Washington. Hendricks called Foote’s leadership “contagious,” and the 10-year veteran of the NHL is making a statement with his own character in how he’s tackling this opportunity with the Wild.
“They signed me to be the 12th, 13th forward,” he said. “My job is to be the 12th. I know they may think that I’m going to be their 13th, but I don’t think they signed me if I said, ‘OK, I’m going to be the 13th.’ I guess it’s a prideful thing but at the same time, I think that’s what’s kept me going this long.”
The Wild put defenseman Ryan Murphy on waivers Monday and assigned forwards Matt Read, Kyle Rau and Mike Liambas; defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Josh Thrower; and goalie Andrew Hammond to the American Hockey League — moves that will help the team reach the 23-man roster limit ahead of the 4 p.m. deadline Tuesday.
If Murphy clears waivers, he will be assigned to Iowa.
Murphy was battling for the seventh spot on defense with Nate Prosser and Gustav Olofsson. Both of those two are currently with the Wild, although Olofsson missed most of the preseason after suffering a shoulder injury. He would need to be healthy to be placed on waivers and assigned to the AHL.
Subtracting Murphy would put the roster only at 24. The team also must decide what to do with forward Luke Kunin, who is recovering from a torn ACL. Kunin is set to be evaluated Tuesday and once he is medically cleared, he can be sent to Iowa. He also could start the season on injured reserve, a designation that doesn’t take up an active roster spot.