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LOS ANGELES — Matt Hendricks wasn’t sure when, or even if, the assignment would come.
Was he picked up three weeks ago merely for his leadership and popularity inside the Winnipeg Jets’ dressing room, or would he actually pull on a jersey and go to battle?
The veteran winger finally got word from Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice he’d make his Jets debut — again — Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings.
Hendricks, 37, skated on the fourth line with centre Andrew Copp and Mathieu Perreault, his first taste of the real deal since he last suited up in a game for the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 12.
“Yeah, you never know. Things are going pretty well for our team right now. I didn’t put any expectations on it,” Hendricks admitted, following the Jets’ morning skate on Monday at Staples Center.
“I wanted to show up, work hard, be myself, be the guy that everyone expects me to be in here. If you get to play, you get to play. If you don’t, you’re still helping the team in other ways, in other categories.
“Any time you get to put on an NHL jersey, you should be very happy and grateful for the opportunity.”
The Jets still had the familiar No. 15 jersey ready for the guy from Blaine, Minn., who played the 2017-18 season with the Jets, scoring five goals and adding eight assists in 60 games. He signed a one-year deal with the Wild in the summer, and was acquired by the Jets on Feb. 25 at the NHL trade deadline. Winnipeg sent a seventh-round pick in 2020 to Minnesota in return.
On Monday night, Hendricks replaced winger Jack Roslovic, who was a healthy scratch for just the second time this season. He sat out in Helsinki on Nov. 2 when the Jets played their second of two games against the Florida Panthers in the NHL Global Series.
Hendricks had seen limited action with the Wild and had just a pair of assists in 22 games, a combination of being injured and being passed over by Minnesota head coach Bruce Boudreau.
“Excited… looking forward to joining — really rejoining — these guys and being out there in the trenches with them,” Hendricks said. “Just try to play my game, bring some energy to the bench and in the room here and do whatever I can to get a win.
“There’s a lot of joy in this room, a lot of energy. It’s a real good group in terms of friendships, kind of that family feeling in here, that close, tight-knit group. I’m happy to be here and I want to do my best (Monday) to give a little bit to the team in a game.”
Maurice said the timing was right to give Hendricks, in his 10th NHL campaign, some game action.
“He’s healthy, for one. It took him a couple weeks after we got him to get him back to right. This will be a heavy game along the walls. We didn’t love our game in here last time, so he fits that style of game,” Maurice said.
The Kings, last in the Pacific Division, dumped the visiting Jets 4-1 on Dec. 18.
“Roslovic is healthy and I like his game. He didn’t come out on fault. I like where he’s trending. But I do want to make sure we have some games on everybody here and give ourselves a chance to win every night. So, trying to pick the right spots for it to happen.”
Hendricks’ contribution to the Jets during an exceptional 2017-18 regular season and post-season series victories over the Wild and Nashville Predators did not come in the form of point production. But he was a workhorse on the penalty kill, added some strength at the faceoff dot, bolstered the squad’s overall grit and injected some inspiration and emotion.
Just his presence alone might be a critical intangible that propels Winnipeg down the stretch and into the playoffs.
“The way they welcomed me is the best feeling a player can have, especially a guy getting a little long in the tooth like myself,” Hendricks said. “So, to come in here to open arms, a lot of hugs, a lot of jokes and jabs, it’s a good feeling. It’s a special team.
“Expectations are a little higher for the team and for each individual. I think each guy in this room has higher expectations for himself, too. So, that’s a little bit different. But at the same time, if you’re a team competing, those are the attributes that you want in an individual. I’m happy to get my opportunity.”
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).