By Ben Raby
STE CATHERINES, ONTARIO Sometimes the fate of a professional hockey player simply comes down to having an opportunity. Few players know this better than Washington Capitals forward Matt Hendricks who is entering his third year with the team after making good on a professional tryout in 2010.
So when Hendricks was asked last week what he thinks it will take for his former teammate Wojtek Wolski to regain his 20-goal form, the answer was a familiar one.
I think it has so much to do with the opportunity youre given and the role that youre put in, he said. Hendricks and Wolski were roommates with the Colorado Avalanche during the 2009-10 campaign, and after Wolskis signing with the Caps last month, the two will be reunited next season in Washington.
Wolski had a career-high 23 goals and 65 points with the Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes in 2009-10, but in the two years since he has combined for just 16 goals and 47 points while playing for three different teams.
He just wasnt put in the same role that he had in Denver, Hendricks said. He wasnt given as many minutes on the power play, or as many minutes against other teams lines that he can take advantage of and those things factor into a guys point production - who youre playing against, how much ice time youre given, how much power play time youre given.
The other thing is the mental side of it. Its hard when you get traded around- you dont have that comfortable feeling with your teammates, and coaches. Im sure thats something hes looking forward to this year in Washington- getting in there right away and establishing himself with a good training camp. If hes comfortable and confident the rest of that stuff will come. The opportunities will come if he shows that hes ready for it.
Wolski, 26, had career-lows of four goals and 12 points last season in 31 games split between the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers. He missed significant time with a groin injury but was medically cleared by the Capitals before signing in July. If healthy, Hendricks sees Wolski as a top-six forward.
Hes a very skilled player but hes also a big strong kid. If he can get the puck, he can be a bit like Jason Chimera with that outside speed but also with the strength to cut in and outmuscle defensemen in front of the net. So youre going to see that and youre also going to see his playmaking abilities. He has the ability to put up points if hes given the opportunity (theres that word again) on the power play and such.
OPPORTUNITY OF A DIFFERENT KIND:
Hendricks opportunity in 2010 came largely from his relationship with then-Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau. Hendricks had played for Boudreau with the 2006-07 Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League and the coach had a soft spot for the 29-year-old who had 301 career minor league games to his credit and just 60 career games in the NHL.
Despite Boudreau moving on to the Anaheim Ducks last season, Hendricks has not forgotten who provided him with his big break for a fulltime NHL gig. With that in mind, when Boudreau asked a few of his current and former players to assist him at his summer hockey school, Hendricks jumped at the- well, opportunity- to help out.
Bruce asked me back in September to do this, Hendricks told CSNWashington.com from Boudreaus Golden Horseshoe Hockey School in Southern Ontario.
Then he goes to Anaheim and Im in Washington and we didnt really touch base for the rest of the year but he contacted me after the playoffs and asked if Id still be interested in attending and I said yes. I said that I committed to doing it then and I dont see why it should change now. Bruce and I have always had a good relationship since my playing days in Hershey so anytime that I have the chance to help him out a little bit, and I felt that I could do it, I was excited for the opportunity.
Boudreaus summer hockey school celebrated its 30th anniversary last week with 400 campers with varying skill levels and ranging from ages 4-16.
Check back to CSNWashington.com in the days ahead for more on Boudreaus Golden Horseshoe Hockey School including our one-on-one interview with the Caps former bench boss.