Wild veteran Matt Hendricks willing to 'repay the game'
DES MOINES — Matt Hendricks knows he can still play hockey at a high level. He proved that much during Monday, Sept. 17's preseason opener against the Winnipeg Jets, potting the Wild's only goal in a 2-1 loss.
Still, the 37-year-old forward is well aware that if all goes as planned, he's more likely going to be watching from the press box than playing. He understood that much when he signed a one-year, $700,000 contract this offseason.
"I'm at the point in my career now where if I'm not in the lineup every night, I'm going to understand it," Hendricks said before quickly adding, "at the same time, I'm not going to just sit around and accept it."
Hendricks has carved out a near decade-long career as a grinder on the front line. While he's not going to score 20 goals, or maybe even 10, he brings life to a line, and an invaluable set of intangibles to the locker room.
"It's not like I'm going to be someone that carries it around the locker room and makes a big deal out of (a healthy scratch)," he said. "I'm just going to be someone that shows up and tries to work hard to earn that next opportunity."
Hendricks said signing with Minnesota was no-brainer. He grew up in Blaine, Minn., and attended St. Cloud State before embarking on an NHL career and has always been waiting for a chance to get back to the Twin Cities.
"This was a great fit for me," he said. "I'm excited now that everything is settling in now that we're a few days into training camp. I'm a huge fan of the guys in this locker room, and I'm really looking forward to being a small piece to the puzzle."
That means helping some of the younger guys along, even though they might be gunning for his roster spot.
"That's just the way the games evolves," he said. "There are so people that helped me get to this point. I want to make sure I'm repaying the game for what it's given me."
Two weeks from their Oct. 4 season opener at Colorado, there aren't many roster spots up for grabs. That means some of the younger players in the organization will soon be assigned to the minors.
"You're just trying to leave a good impression," said center Justin Kloos, 24, of Lakeville. "If there's a point that they need me, whether it's at the beginning of the season or the end of the season, I want to make sure they're confident in my ability to make an impact at this level. That's the goal for most of the young guys here."
It's about striking a balance, though, because the ultimate goal is still making the team out of training camp.
"You kind of have to look at it like we're battling for a roster spot and also like we're trying to set ourselves up for the future," center Sam Anas said. "You want to leave a good impression, so even if some of those older guys do get the first chance, we're one of the first names that come to mind if something happens."
The Wild surrendered a pair of goals in the final moments of a game against the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Arena, ending with a 3-2 loss.
Brennan Menell and Kloos scored goals for the Wild, while Tyler Bozak scored the game-tying and game-winning goals less than thirty seconds apart for the Blues.
There are still five preseason games left on the schedule, meaning chances to turn heads remain.
“I want them to try to win the job,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They know that we’re going to take the best players, so if they’re the best players, they’re going to play.”