Vancouver Canucks’ Cody Hodgson gains speed and confidence
As goals go, it was nothing spectacular—in fact, it was a little on the ugly side. And the very fact Cody Hodgson put a puck in the net in preseason isn’t really the issue or the real reason that should have the Vancouver Canucks brass smiling. It was a collection of little things that led to the scoring play in a recent exhibition game against the San Jose Sharks that shows progression in Hodgson’s game and gives reason to believe there might just be a spot in the October 6 opening-night lineup for the 2008 first-round draft pick.
There had been flashes in Hodgson’s first week of the National Hockey League preseason, but through his first three appearances in Canucks colours, he had nothing on the score sheet to show for his efforts. And questions were beginning to be raised about whether the hockey team could head to the regular season with Hodgson as its second-line centre if the 21-year-old hadn’t managed as much as a single point in exhibition affairs.
But Hodgson put that matter to rest when he got his stick on a loose puck lying in the crease behind the San Jose netminder on September 25 and tied the meaningless affair 2-2. Again, the goal itself wasn’t much to see. But the work Hodgson did to score it is what might allow him to win the battle for the second-line-centre spot, with incumbent Ryan Kesler likely to miss the first month to six weeks of the schedule after off-season hip surgery.
Hodgson shook off a check along the end boards in Sharks territory, made a play to a pinching defenceman, never lost sight of the puck as it worked its way to the front of the goal, and then showed some quickness to beat his man to the side of the net to pounce on the puck as it sat inches from the goal line. Hodgson took a beating and wound up with his face full of mesh as he was deposited on the back of the net. But he’d paid a price to make a play, and that’s exactly what the Canucks want to see from the Toronto native if he’s going be able to step in and compete on a nightly basis.
“It was great to contribute, but it would have been nice to do it in a win,” Hodgson said after the game, which the Canucks wound up losing 4-3. “It’s nice to get opportunities to play, and I’m getting a chance to play with some good linemates.”
Hodgson was as busy as any Canuck in the first week of the preseason, dressing for four of the team’s first five exhibition outings. Much was made early in the preseason about the position he was put in, playing with grinders rather than offensive-minded teammates who might give him a better opportunity to shine.
But at this stage of his development, Hodgson needs to demonstrate an ability to compete on every shift. After a summer of intensive training with former NHLer (and now fitness guru) Gary Roberts, Hodgson appears stronger on his skates and hasn’t looked out of place in puck battles at either end of the ice.
As is the case with any player attending his fourth big-league camp, Hodgson looks more comfortable now and seems to be letting the natural offensive instincts he’s been blessed with take over. Where in the past he appeared to be overthinking things on the ice, he now looks more at ease with the puck, holding on to it a bit longer than in the past in an effort to make plays.
And perhaps the most noticeable improvement from his game in the months since he put in a dozen mostly forgettable appearances in the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring is that he seems to have improved his speed. In today’s NHL, a player simply can’t survive unless he can keep up. And Hodgson, who has battled back issues in the past, appears as healthy as he’s been in years.
“I feel strong, a lot faster, a lot lighter out there, and it feels nice to be able to make some things happen,” he says. “I know guys say it all the time, but I just want to work hard and keep getting better every day.”
No one in the Canucks camp has been under the microscope more than Hodgson—that comes with the territory as a highly touted pick who hasn’t yet worked out the way the fans and the organization had hoped. And although his preseason play hasn’t blown the hockey world away, there have been some encouraging signs that indicate he might be able to handle the load should he win the audition and land the spot on the roster to start the season. He remains in a battle with fellow former first-rounder Jordan Schroeder and veteran Andrew Ebbett, and the verdict likely won’t be handed down until after the final whistle blows to put an end to the excruciatingly long preseason.
The goal against the Sharks likely eased a burden on Hodgson by simply getting on the score sheet and removing any external force and whatever pressure he was applying on himself to make something—anything—happen. Put in the right spot and with the right wingers, Hodgson’s skill will continue to emerge and, as a result, the points will follow.
The kid helped his case for that roster spot with the effort he showed to score the goal. Those are the things the coaching staff and management are looking for and will remember. And it’s all of those little details that in the end will likely result in Hodgson getting the big opportunity he’s been working for.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter