As Matt Hendricks spoke with reporters just a few hours before he faced off against his former teammates, members of his current squad made their way into the visitors’ dressing room at Verizon Center. Seeing the gritty forward holding court, several Nashville Predators chirped “You tell ‘em Wagon!” and “What a Wagon!”
It wasn’t too long ago that wagon, Hendricks’s preferred moniker for those on a roster that aren’t elite skill players, was being heard around the Capitals dressing room on a daily basis. But it also offered a reminder of the character that Hendricks injects into any dressing room that he’s a part of.
“You’re not going to look at Hendo and go, ‘Man he’s really loading up on points’. That’s not what he’s about,” Predators Coach Barry Trotz said. “He brings all the intangibles that a team looks for, it’s that grit and character. It’s that blocked shot at the end of the game, that all-in factor that every team wants and every team needs to bring the whole thing together. You need some of those guys and he’s one of those guys.”
After three seasons with the Capitals, Hendricks, 32, signed a four-year $7.4 million contract with Nashville last summer as an unrestricted free agent.
It was a deal that the Capitals weren’t willing to offer to retain the grinder but it was evidence of how far Hendricks had come since he arrived in Washington on a professional try-out contract prior to the start of the 2010-11 season.
“With [General Manager] George [McPhee] and the organization and [former coach Bruce Boudreau], when he got me to come here and gave me the opportunity to come here they really helped catapult my career,” Hendricks said. “I’m very thankful for the Caps for that.”
In 25 games for the Predators, Hendricks has just one goal, which is also his only point this season. He’s averaging 12:29 minutes per game, just 46 seconds more than he did in Washington last year, but Hendricks is seeing a bit more of an opportunity to contribute on special teams. Hendricks is a regular part of Nashville’s penalty kill and with 2:31 of shorthanded ice time per night he’s one of only three forwards to average over two minutes on the unit.
That confidence from the Predators’ coaching staff along with that squad’s defensive approach to the game suit Hendricks well, he just wants to do more with those chances.
“The coaching staff’s given me a lot of responsibilities,” Hendricks said. “They’ve shown a lot of trust in me, put me out in situations where it might have been 50/50 when I was with the Caps. Now it’s more of a 100 percent opportunity. I thank them for that and it’s my job to show them that I’m worth it. “