September 09 2011 12:57PM
To call Cody Hodgson a polarizing figure in the Vancouver sports landscape is probably an understatement. The highly regarded prospect has had a tumultuous start to his career, and has been criticized an absurd amount for a player with 20 total NHL games of experience. I've written about him at length previously, and tend to be pretty bullish on his skill-set and sensitive to the fact that I'd be frustrated as hell too if I was injured, had that injury misdiagnosed and was then criticized by my head coach in the press. But other smart people, whose opinions I very much respect - like Dobberhockey's Jeff Angus, or fellow CanucksArmy editor Cam Davie - have seen Hodgson in the past as bratty, churlish and "entitled."
We all know Hodgson's rep - he's incredibly skilled, but he's not the biggest guy, or the fastest skater - and so far in his young career he's proven to be brittle - and very much snake-bitten in terms of his health. We all read about his stellar Junior resume, and we all drooled while watching him dominate the World Jr. Championships in 08-09. We're all excited to hear that Hodgson can now pronounce Quinoa, and that he finally had a healthy offseason to train, work on his stride and add-muscle. Finally, we all know that, with all the injuries currently afflicting usual top-six mainstay's like Kesler and Raymond - Hodgson has a tremendous opportunity to start this season.
Justin Bourne - who knows a little something about skating - diagnosed an issue pertaining to Cody Hodgson's lack of speed in February, saying that Hodgson "doesn’t bring his skates all the way back under his body, which makes for a shorter, less efficient stride.” Though that's not what you want to hear about your teams top-prospect - it also strikes me as a correctable issue. Hodgson will definitely need to get stronger on the puck to succeed at the NHL level, but the five pounds of muscle he's added this season will help - and so will maturation - Hodgson just needs to get that "man-strength."
Needless to say, from what I've seen of Cody Hodgson (a handful of Moose games, and 20 NHL games), I've been pretty impressed. Two impressions particularly stuck with me from the postseason - firstly, you could tell he wanted the puck, and secondly, he didn't require a lot of time or space to make smart, impressive plays. My impressions are mostly backed up by what Corey Pronman of PuckProspectus had to say about Hodgson in his list of the top-10 Canucks prospects:
He thinks the game at a plus level with tremendous vision, instincts, and lighting quick decisions. This translates into him being an excellent playmaker who sets up chances for his linemates with regularity. He's not afraid to battle in the physical areas and shows a responsible hard-working defensive game as well.
Hodgson had one playoff point, an assist in game 2 of the first round series against Chicago - it was off of a lucky goal, but Hodgson's play to set it up hinted at the potential he still possesses. Firstly, on the zone-entry, he did something we always see from Kesler - he was slapping his stick against the ice - he wanted the puck, and wanted to make something happen. That confidence, from a kid who has dealt with as many obstacles as Cody has, is good to see.
When Hodgson does get the puck, down below the goaltender, he fakes one way, draws Duncan Keith - who knows a thing or two about being an NHL defenseman - then goes the other way. He ably holds off Brian Campbell and dishes it to the point where Edler uncorks a massive point shot. Ben Smith stupidly goes for the block with his stick and ends up tipping the puck into his own net. It's not much, and I don't mean to be so "saw him good" with my analysis - but it impressed me at the time. Anyways, here's the play:
Hodgson was woefully mis-utilized last season. Tanner Glass' stick is where puck-movement goes to die, and Hodgson spent most of his time last season skating with some combination of Oreskovich, Glass and Tambellini. Hodgson's skill-set requires him to play with talent to be effective, instead he had the lowest qual-team of any center on the big club outside of Alexandre Bolduc. The low-point in Hodgson's preposterous deployment, was the February 7th game against the Ottawa Senators when Hodgson got a season-high two minutes and twenty seconds of power-play ice-time. The problem is, he was deployed in front of the net! While Burrows - an experienced, effective net presence - fumbled along the side-boards with the puck, Hodgson battled admirably, but ineffectually with Flip Kuba in front of Brian Elliot. We're talking about Cody Hodgson here, a potentially elite set-up man, and you're playing him like he's Thomas effing Holmstrom!
When I look at Hodgson's AHL numbers, I really like what I see. Based on his scoring rate, and Gabe Desjardin's league translation numbers, Hodgson's AHL production would've translated into 19-20 points at the NHL level last year. Considering Hodgson spent a fair bit of his AHL time working himself back into shape after a variety of injuries - that's not too, too bad. What I really like about his AHL performance last year, and think bodes well for his future development, was how many SOG he generated. He took 166 shots in in just fifty-two games, or well over three shots per game. More than goal totals, that augers well for his future production.
There is no prospect in the Canucks system with as much to gain over the next month. Hodgson has graduated from playing in the young-star tournament that opens this Sunday - but it's a must for him to impress over the course of training camp and the pre-season. Will his summer of beefing up and working out with the BioSteel team pay dividends?
Canucks fans certainly hope so, because a healthy Hodgson,who fits into the Canucks top-six, would be one hell of a luxury item. Not only would he provide the team with a solid option at center for the second-unit power-play, but it would also allow Alain Vigneault to experiment with - say - Kesler playing on the Sedin line for extended periods at even-strength. And that would be all kinds of awesome.