I n 2000, the Nashville Predators drafted Scott Hartnell with the sixth overall pick. With the first pick of the fifth round, they drafted Matt Hendricks from Blaine High School in Minnesota.
It only took thirteen years for Hendricks to sign a contract with the Predators, inking a 4-year, $7.5 million deal on Friday.
“It’s kind of funny – I got drafted by (Nashville) back in 2000 – that was 13 years ago,” Hendricks said. “I never really got an opportunity to work with the organization. I went on to a 4 year career at St. Cloud State and things didn’t work out between Nashville and myself after that career, so I moved on and they moved on and I couldn’t be happier to get the chance to come back and play for the (Predators) and live in a great city like Nashville.”
After the that Draft, Hendricks played 4 seasons with St. Cloud State (half a decade after fellow signee Matt Cullen) before joining Nashville’s AHL affiliate – the Milwaukee Admirals – for one game during the 2004-05 season. The Predators and Hendricks were unable to come to terms after that season and Hendricks was allowed to walk. He spent 5 seasons in the minor leagues, between the ECHL and AHL, before finally playing making his NHL debut for the Colorado Avalanche in March 2009, 9 years after he was drafted. In 2009-10, Hendricks finally cracked an NHL roster for a full season, spending 56 games with the Avalanche before being released at free agency.
Hendricks then made the Washington Capitals as a non-roster invitee to training camp and spent the last 3 seasons with that organization. All told, Hendricks has played in 263 NHL games, scored 58 points (27 G – 31 A) and tacked on 365 penalty minutes.
“There are a lot of times when I was in the minors and I was upset about not getting a chance in Nashville and not signing a contract with them,” Hendricks said. “I wanted that opportunity and I did use that as a little bit of motivation. For it to go full-circle now and for me to be back in the organization, I couldn’t be happier.”
“Different players take time to get to the NHL,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. “They take different routes. At the time, we didn’t see Matt being able to do that. He sort of took the long route, very similar to an Andrew Brunette who played here – a Joel Ward-type.”
As for why Hendricks decided that now was the time to join the Predators, he praised the team’s historically gritty-style of play that Trotz likes to call “Predator hockey”.
“I love the system that they play,” Hendricks said. “I love the defensive style that they play. They have a great goaltender in Pekka. They’ve got a great defensive core. They’ve got some really good forwards – young forwards, as well.”
“I think they are a team that has been successful,” Hendricks said. “They get to the playoffs every year, they just haven’t been able to get over that hump. I find myself to be able to thrive in that type of atmosphere, that type of system, that type of hockey.”
Like Cullen, Hendricks was also swayed by a former Predator praising the franchise.
“I was roommates with Joel Ward his first year in Washington,” Hendricks said. “We talked about how well the team is coached and managed from (General Manager) David (Poile) all the way down to the coaching staff. He had nothing but great things to say about Barry (Trotz) and about his coaching foundation and the way that he works with players and gets the most out of his players.”
For a team completely stacked at the center position, Hendricks has historically played at both center and at wing, which may come in handy when the season starts.
“I like to play both (center and wing). I’ve played both. I think last year I probably split half the season at center and half the season at wing. They both kind of bring a little different aspect. I like playing center because it gives me more responsibility, but then on the wing, you get to bang bodies more – you get to run around and hit, get in on the forecheck a little bit more than a center would.”
Never known as a scorer, Hendricks knows that is not the role that he will be expected to play in Nashville. During the 2012-13 season, Hendricks had nearly as many fighting majors (7) as he did points (8).
“I’m going to be an energy guy,” Hendricks said. “I’m going to bring energy to the rink every day, whether it’s games, practices or what-not. Being that sandpaper, being that gritty player that sticks up for his teammates, plays hard and finishes his checks and tries to make it miserable on your opponents, I think the more players you have like that in the lineup, it becomes just a little bit easier for everyone else. You’re not worrying so much about other teams being physical because that’s what we want to bring now – we want to be the physical team.”
Photo: Bridget Samuels