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Natural Born Leader

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
Photo by Getty Images.

“It’s a part of my niche.”

The Edmonton Oilers traded with the Nashville Predators to acquire forward Matt Hendricks. The return has been more for the Oilers than just his two goals and more than his penalty kill prowess. He has become a leader in the locker room, and did so immediately.

“He’s a leader,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said, shortly after Hendricks arrived in Edmonton. “That’s for sure. Sometimes what happens is a guy like that comes in and he takes a leadership role and he talks a lot and he works hard and maybe after a few games, if things haven’t gone that well, they sometimes get quiet.

“It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen with Matt. I’ve asked him to… We need his kind of leadership and grit to rub off on our group and I think he’s providing that. He was excellent in the game for me and he was good on the bench. He’s another voice preaching the right things and I thought our group responded to him.”

Since being asked to take on a veteran leadership role in the Oilers’ dressing room, Hendricks has embraced the responsibility with open arms.

Photo by Getty Images.

“It’s a part of my niche, not only just on this team,” Hendricks said. “It’s what helped get me in this league and what’s kept me in this league.

“It hasn’t been too hard at all. The guys have been very welcoming. There’s been a few of them speaking up to me saying they want me to be vocal, want me to speak up and speak my mind. It’s been pretty easy actually.”

Hendricks is no stranger to the new face in the locker room. Over the course of his career, he has played for four NHL teams since being traded by the Boston Bruins to Colorado in 2008. He understands the challenges of coming in and being vocal right away.

“Getting to know the guys, knowing what you can say to guys,” Hendricks said. “You don’t want to rub them the wrong way too early or anything like that but, at the same time, this is our job and everyone in here should expect to win. That’s what we’re here for. You’ve heard coaches say it before. This is a game of winning. It’s not about how nice you can be to each other. It’s about winning and focusing on winning hockey games and I think the more that becomes the culture in this room, the better we’ll be in the end.”

Photo by Getty Images.

In addition to being comfortable with his role on the team, Hendricks has settled in his new environment. He’s enjoying putting on the new sweater.

“I feel comfortable with the system. The coaching staff keeps it simple. They just expect a lot of work ethic every night. The more this team battles and the more this team becomes focused on the details of the game, the more successful we’re going to be. We’ve got a lot of talent, we’ve got a lot of talent in here and we work hard. Those are the things that help make a winning team successful.”

The Oilers went 5-1-1 in their last seven games before the Olympic break. They’ve played much better as a team and Hendricks has been a part of that. He sees the confidence building as the team sees more success.

“I think so,” he said. “I think you see the confidence in the group. I think it’s been great. Anytime you get great goaltending, like we’ve been getting, you have opportunities to win hockey games and it starts there. (Ben Scrivens) and (Ilya Bryzgalov) have been outstanding for us and the power play and penalty kill have been good too. In my opinion, this game is all about goaltending and it’s all about special teams. If you win those two battles, you have a good chance to win.”

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