When Cody Hodgson was drafted 10th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft it looked like a steal. A high-scoring centre who was described as a natural leader, many fans had already pegged him as the team's future captain before he even stepped onto the ice for his first NHL training camp.
Although he wouldn't make the team on his first try, an excellent showing at the 2009 World Junior Championships that saw him register a tournament leading 16 points, raised fans' expectations to an all time high. Heading into his second training camp, Hodgson was figured as a lock to make the team, but things didn't go as planned.
A back injury suffered in the offseason caused him to miss two months of training and Hodgson never found his groove in camp. After a lacklustre try-out with the Canucks, Hodgson was returned to his OHL team, the Brampton Battalion.
2010 would once again see Hodgson fail to make the big team, and the young centre would be assigned to the AHL's Manitoba Moose. He would have a few brief stints with the Canucks during the season, eventually recording his first NHL goal, but would fail to stick with the team for an extended period of time.
Many young players need time to develop before fulfilling their potential. Canucks fans need only look at Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who didn't really start producing until their fifth season, for proof of that. However, at Hodgson's age they were at least playing in the NHL, and the fact that he hasn't even been able to crack the lineup after three tries has many fans already labelling him a bust.
Anyone who was expecting a Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin-like rookie season was obviously a wishful thinker, but would making the team as a third-line centre be too much to ask? Despite what Canucks officials say, they too have to be just a little disappointed with their top prospect's progress, and they're patience may be wearing thin.
With all that said, is this Cody Hodgson's last chance to make the Vancouver Canucks? It very well could be, but it doesn't mean it can't be done.
With Ryan Kesler likely unable to start the season, an opening, albeit temporary, has opened up at the second-line centre position. With defensive specialist Manny Malhotra next on the depth chart and unlikely to be put in a scoring role, that spot could be Hodgson's should he impress Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault in camp.
His limited play with the Canucks last year also proved he's not a defensive liability on the ice. With more offensive potential than any of the other possible candidates to fill Kesler's spot, and a decent defensive game, Vigneault may just decide to slot Hodgson into the second-line centre role to start the season.
Of course, the main thing holding Hodgson back has been his skating. He's always had the smarts and the hands to be an NHL player, but if he can't up with the play then all his other attributes will null and void. How much improvement the Canucks coaches see in his skating could be the determining factor when they decide whether or not to keep him around.
So can he make the team?
The expectation is obviously that he can and should make the team, but with his past performances in mind those expectations will be a little more measured than in previous seasons.
Lower expectations may be just what Hodgson needs though. The ability to go through a training camp without pressure of being the Canucks "saviour" will likely make things a little easier on the prospect this time around.
Hodgson has never had a better opportunity to make the Canucks and the spot on the team appears to be his to lose. But if he can't crack the lineup this year, fans and the team likely won't be willing to wait for him any longer.