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Day one of Hendricks' next chapter commences at Wild Development Camp

Longtime NHL forward accepts role in Minnesota front office to help develop young players

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- As the on-ice portion of the Wild's Development Camp commenced at TRIA Rink at Treasure Island Center on Tuesday morning, nestled in with the young faces and new names was a familiar veteran hand.

Fresh off a stellar 10-year NHL career that spanned five teams and more than 600 games -- not to mention 301 more contests in the minor leagues -- Hendricks announced his retirement as a player on Tuesday, the same day he hopped on the ice in his new role as the Wild's Assistant Director of Player Development.

Hendricks' new job will cover a number of areas within the Wild organization, but job No. 1 will be to help the organization's younger players grow both on and off the ice. 

"That's where I think it kind of becomes a seamless transition," Hendricks said. "This is where I've been, in my career, the past three years. These players are going to be little bit younger on average, they're not going to have quite the superstars you have at the NHL level. But there are going to be some great prospects that I get to work with."

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau was thrilled with the addition of Hendricks to the organization. Boudreau coached Hendricks in Hershey at the American Hockey League level, with the Washington Capitals and again for two-thirds of last season, before Hendricks was traded from Minnesota to Winnipeg at the trade deadline.

The Jets thought so much of Hendricks' leadership qualities that they flipped a seventh-round pick to the Wild in 2020 and played Hendricks in just four games down the stretch.

No matter which team he was with as a player, Hendricks had the ability to walk into a dressing room and immediately command respect.

Tweet from @mnwild: Welcome back @MattHendy26! Matt Hendricks joins #mnwild front office as an Assistant Director of Player Development ��� https://t.co/aOw65s6Nd2 pic.twitter.com/l0gLL9yhtp

"That's why we got him, that's why Edmonton got him and why Winnipeg wanted him," Boudreau said. "He may not have had the skill to keep it going like he did when I had him at 22, 23, 25 and all the way up. But his in-room presence is incredibly good and his willingness to work with young players in tremendous. I see no reason why he shouldn't excel at this job."

Hendricks' time in a Wild sweater was short -- just 22 games and about five months -- but one of the many lasting memories was his willingness to take young players under his wing. 

Whether it was staying after practice with Nick Seeler to work on his fighting skills or staying in touch with Jordan Greenway -- something he did even after he left to play in Winnipeg -- Hendricks was secure enough in his place on the team to impart as much wisdom as he could.

While the notion of a veteran player showing a younger player the ropes seems commonplace, it isn't always that easy ... not in a salary-cap era where teams are often trying to get younger, faster and cheaper. 

Despite all that, Hendricks was able to carve out a terrific career on the ice, one that will dovetail nicely with an increased presence around the house.

His son, Gunnar, will be a second-grader this fall and will be a third-year mite this winter, offering Hendricks an opportunity he's rarely had: to be a regular old hockey dad. 

"When you start getting more excited to watch him play than actually doing whatever you do at the rink, I think that's kind of telling you something as well," Hendricks said. 

Working hand-in-hand with Wild Director of Player Development Brad Bombardir, Hendricks will have the opportunity to be a pseudo-hockey dad at the rink as well.

The youngest player at this week's camp, 17-year-old Nikita Nesterenko, is young enough to be Hendricks' son. So were the other six players here who the Wild drafted over the weekend. 

It's possible not all of their paths will end with a lengthy NHL career, but Hendricks feels he certainly knows the path to the world's best league isn't an easy one. 

"It wasn't until I was almost 28 that I got my first [NHL] game," Hendricks said. "I know what it's like to play in the minor leagues and have the dream and the aspirations of playing in the NHL. I think that will help these young guys."

Where the road leads after this for Hendricks is currently unknown. Could he coach? Or is a front office job more his direction? That will all come in time. 

Boudreau has his opinion, however.

"I think, in the end, he'll be a full-time coach," Boudreau said. "This is a great first step. His communication skills and the way he handles young players is great and I think both him and [Brad Bombardir] are very similar. Our young players are in great hands."

For now, not having to worry about a hellish grind just to prepare for another season is appealing. Swapping out mornings in the cold tub with time in the boat catching fish seems like a solid trade-off. Getting the opportunity to spend more time with his wife, Kim, Gunnar and his daughter, Lennon will be a welcome change for a guy who has spent much of their lives away from home.

And he's still gonna be around the game that he loves.

"You get to a point in your career where it starts trickling into your mind, 'What's next? What about when this great game all comes to an end?'" Hendricks said. "For me, it's been the last couple of seasons wondering what my next step would be. My on-ice performance wasn't where I wanted it to be and wasn't where organizations wanted it to be. 

"I wanted to stay in the game I love so much. It's very exciting to be able to do this in my home state and be close to my family."


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Wild names Hendricks Assistant Director of Player Development

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