Now that Ryan Kesler has been awarded a contract extension, the position of first and second line center will be filled for at least the next six years. So what about the role of third line centre, who could be the best candidate for that job? Kyle Wellwood currently fills that spot.
On July 1st he will become a UFA. This season has been rather inconsistent for Wellwood, he has found it difficult to continue the success from last season that saw him score a career high 18 goals, to date he has a total of 11 goals. Over the course of the current campaign he has been stuck in numerous scoring slumps, where he has failed to earn a single point. On more than one occasion he has been without points in at least three consecutive games.
From January 7th he was in a scoreless drought that stretched a staggering six games. It’s no surprise that he has spent time observing games from the dreaded press box. The Kyle Wellwood story is not filled with complete doom; in the last three games he has 2 goals and 7 points over the course of 11 games. In recent outings he has been proving that he can also excel at the defensive side of his game.
This was very evident when the Canucks faced the Sharks and again on Saturday against the Red Wings. At twenty-six Wellwood may never become a thirty-goal scorer. Alex Burrows is twenty-eight, when he was the same age as Wellwood, there were few who would have predicted that two years later Burrows would be leading the Canucks in goals with a total of 32. Until last season Burrows was more known for being a checking winger on a line with Kesler. So perhaps like Burrows, Wellwood needs more time to develop his ability?
The Canucks depth at Center past the third line is a little sparse with only Rypien and Johnson in the regular line up. After July 1st Johnson will also enter the free agent market. At 33 Johnson is the clubs resident shot blocker, who often takes more beatings than the average Piñata. Over the last few years his body has started to pay the price for his Kamikaze like antics in front of the net, so he may opt to retire at the end of this season? With just one goal in fifty-one games is Gillis really going to want to renew his contract?
Rypien is under contract until 2011 and can also play the wing. So if Gillis doesn’t keep Wellwood on his books and Johnson chooses to hang up his skates, or Johnson’s ties with Vancouver are broken. Apart from Rypien, who is the most suited person for the job of third line Center? It could be fan favorite Cody Hodgson? Hodgson has had a glittering junior career and has been the recipient of several accolades.
For example he was the CHL player of the year in 2009, he has played in two CHL All Star Games, and helped lead Canada to victory in the World Juniors twice. Throughout his OHL tenure he has played 197 games, he’s scored 114 goals, has 129 assists and 243 points. He does possess great talent, but could he possibly replace Wellwood?
One thing Hodgson is lacking is experience at the NHL level, he may now be ready to make the leap to the professional ranks, or perhaps, would he be more suited spending some time playing with the Moose? The last thing the Canucks organization, and fans alike want to do is rush Hodgson’s development. For the majority of this season Wellwood has looked like he has been playing himself out of a new contract. Gillis has got some options to explore before he finds the correct fit for his third line. Perhaps Hodgson will be given the opportunity he craves, or maybe Gillis will test the open market, but if Wellwood continues to improve he may find himself providing a more permanent fixture in Vancouver.