While the Zamboni was still freshening up the ice Thursday morning after the Avalanche’s skate inside Pepsi Center, one Wild player was already out there warming up.

It was forward Matt Hendricks, who earned the season-opening nod on the fourth line over winger J.T. Brown.

“I’m really excited to be a part of this group,” Hendricks said. “I’ve got a ton of respect for the guys in this locker room. I think this is a very good hockey team. I’m in the lineup tonight. Obviously, I have to keep the job. It’s an every-day type of thing. I’m playing tonight, but it doesn’t mean anything unless I perform.”  

Hendricks signed as a free agent in the summer to handle a depth role that would likely pivot him in and out of the lineup, a responsibility he understood and accepted. But an impressive training camp, the experience he’s honed from 10 seasons in the NHL and a gritty style helped him nab a spot Thursday against an Avalanche squad that has a history of pushing the Wild around – especially in Colorado.

VideoVideo (00:54): The Wild kicks off its season against a familiar foe in the Avalanche..

“I just thought his training camp was really good,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “ … Quite frankly, the  leadership that he brings on the road I thought would really be a positive influence in the first game.”  

The puck has yet to drop on the season, but already Hendricks seems to have carved out a niche with the Wild – especially off the ice as a veteran of the game.

“I’ve seen the texts on his phone, and it’s from his agent from [Connor] McDavid and from [Mark] Scheifele and from these young players that thank Matt so much for helping them guide the way,” Boudreau said. “I thought those were really touching. If I was Matt, I would have taken a lot of pride in getting those texts from really great players. So he has an impact out there.”

Projected lineup:

Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Mikael Granlund

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Nino Niederreiter

Joel Eriksson Ek-Jordan Greenway-Charlie Coyle

Marcus Foligno-Matt Hendricks-Eric Fehr

Ryan Suter- Matt Dumba

Jonas Brodin-Jared Spurgeon

Nick Seeler-Greg Pateryn

Devan Dubnyk

Key numbers:

9-6-2: The Wild’s all-time record in season openers.

1-5-1: The team’s record when it opens the season on the road.

15: Points for forward Charlie Coyle in 27 career games against the Avalanche.

28: Wins on home ice last season for the Avalanche.

35: Goals last season for Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon.

About the Avalanche:

The Avalanche is coming off an impressive rebound last season, as the team advanced to the playoffs amid a 47-point jump. That was the fourth-best year-to-year improvement in league history. MacKinnon was a major reason why, with his career-high 97 points, and he finished second in voting for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. Not only is MacKinnon back in the mix, but so is winger Mikko Rantanen. He had 29 goals and 84 points in 2017-18.

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