Matt Hendricks could be key to building winning Jets season

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EDMONTON — They appear poised for great things, coming off a breakthrough season in which they finally went from chronic rebuilder to legitimate Stanley Cup threat.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/09/2017 (1889 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

EDMONTON — They appear poised for great things, coming off a breakthrough season in which they finally went from chronic rebuilder to legitimate Stanley Cup threat.

But ask around the room of the Edmonton Oilers – a place absolutely oozing talent with talent with the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl – and you’ll get a surprising answer about who played a big role in helping bring it all together.

Matt Hendricks? Really? Really.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES "He's a big leader and it's the reason why (the Edmonton Oilers) had so much success last year, because of his character and his drive to get this team together," says Oiler forward Patrick Maroon.

“He’s a big leader and it’s the reason why this team had so much success last year, because of his character and his drive to get this team together,” forward Patrick Maroon told the Free Press. “I know in Edmonton we’re going to miss him dearly.”

Hendricks, 36, is now plying his trade with your hometown Winnipeg Jets. He signed over the summer as a free agent and appears slotted for the fourth-line centre role, where he can hopefully help the team with face-offs and penalty killing, two areas they have historically struggled with.

Not exactly move-the-needle stuff, especially from a guy who’s put up just 49 goals and 51 assists in his 521 career games over nine seasons with Colorado, Washington, Nashville and Edmonton. Many fans may be questioning why the Jets would want to use a roster spot on a slowing, aging journeyman with mediocre numbers. And those in the hockey analytics community quickly denounced it.

Yet to hear some of the Oilers speak this week, you’d think Winnipeg had just found the guy to help bring them to the Promised Land.

Maroon said building a winning team is not just about throwing your 18 most skilled skaters into the lineup, but finding a proper balance over the grind of a regular-season and hopefully a long playoff run.

And when you have an abundance of young talent – as both the Oilers and the Jets do – it takes on an even more important role, he said.

“With Matt, Winnipeg’s doing a really good job with that. That’s a good signing. He’s going to bring that team together. He’s going to bring that energy that maybe they were missing,” said Maroon.

Zack Kassian, who seemingly had all the potential in the world after turning pro only to run into a number of mostly self-inflicted roadblocks early in his career, said Hendricks is the perfect mentor.

“It’s important. He’s been around the league, he knows what it takes. He’s a true pro, comes to work every day. That’s a good example on the younger guys coming out of junior, first, second year guys. On how hard you have to work to not only play in the league but stay in the league,” said Kassian.

“He’s a great guy in the room, great family guy, cares about his teammates. And then on the hockey side, he comes to work every day, competes, he battles hard,” he said. “I know everyone in here wishes him the most success and when we found out Winnipeg picked him up we were very happy for him.”

Jets head coach Paul Maurice spoke glowingly of Hendricks last week after just a few days of training camp.

“For me, he has already made the players around him better,” said Maurice. “He has completely embraced the role of the bottom-six forward guy, that role player. So he practiced differently than some of our young, bottom-six guys who still practice like they did when they were on their No. 1 line in junior or on their college teams.”

Hendricks only dressed for 42 regular-season games last year due to injury and didn’t crack the lineup as the Oilers went deep into the second round of the playoffs. But Maroon said that didn’t stop him from leading the way.

“In playoffs he was a huge part. Even though he didn’t play he dressed with us in warmups and he was the guy that got us going and making us prepared,” he said. “He’s just one of those guys that works 110 per cent on and off the ice. If it’s for practice, if it’s for games, he brings so much energy. I’m just really proud of him that he got another deal. He’s just one of those guys you cheer for every single night. We’re going to miss him, but Winnipeg got an A-plus guy.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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