Cody Hodgson is quite simply the most talked about rookie the Canucks have had since Pavel Bure almost 20 years ago. Unfortunately, the talk hasn't always been about his play on the ice.
Hodgson went from being drafted 10th overall by Canucks in 2008 and winning the U18 World Juniors, to being the leading scorer in the 2009 World Juniors for the gold medal winning Team Canada. He was also named the CHL Player of the Year for 2009.
Pat Quinn, his coach at the U18 World Juniors, compared Hodgson to Trevor Linden in terms of leadership and big game ability, heady praise indeed in the Vancouver market.
It has been much documented, but after that awesome streak of accomplishments, injuries derailed Hodgson's development. A mis-diagnosed back injury essentially kept him out of hockey during the 2009-2010 season, and then he suffered an eye injury from a teammate's stick during practice early on in the 2010-2011 season.
Playing for the Manitoba Moose (Vancouver's AHL affiliate), Hodgson put up a respectable, but not overwhelming, 17 goals and 13 assists in 52 games. He also had a cup of coffee at the NHL level, playing eight games as the fourth line center for the Canucks. This was hardly a situation for his offensive talents to shine, but he produced a goal and an assist while being a plus one over those eight games.
The season ending injury to Manny Malhotra has opened up a chance for Hodgson to play a more prominent role for the Canucks. He would have been called up earlier, but had to finish out the season in Manitoba due to salary cap issues.
Hodgson will center the third line with Mason Raymond (70 GP, 15 goals, 24 assists, 39 points) and Jannik Hansen (82 GP, 9 goals, 20 assists, 29 points).
Short of playing right wing with the Sedins, this is the ideal situation for Hodgson to contribute to the Canucks.
Raymond and Hansen are the two fastest skaters on the Canucks, and both are dependable two-way players with some offensive ability but a defensive mentality. They will be help to insulate Hodgson from rookie mistakes as they have the wheels to get back and cover if he gives up the puck.
Another key is that Hodgson is making his playoff debut at home. This will allow Head Coach Alain Vigneault to protect the third line from bad match-ups if he feels Hodgson is in over his head. And if Hodgson doesn't work out as the center, the experiment can end after two games when Torres is back from his suspension.
He won't be called upon to shutdown Toews and Kane or run the PK (which would have been Malhotra's role), as that role will now fall to Ryan Kesler.
He won't be called upon to score the big goals, that will be up to the Sedins and Kesler.
He won't be called upon to provide the secondary scoring, that will fall to Mikael Samuelsson, Alex Burrows, Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond.
The Canucks were the best team in the NHL in every statistical category without Hodgson making a major contribution. There aren't any expectations that Hodgson has to carry the team or immediately contribute.
All Hodgson has to do is NOT hurt the Canucks and win a few draws so that Kesler and Henrik don't have to play 25 minutes a night.
And if Hodgson can help with any of those situations above? If he can find another gear and elevate his game like he did in 2008 and 2009?
That's a bonus.
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