[Two-Line Pass is a discussion, or even a debate, between two hockey bloggers on some of the hottest topics in Canucks Nation and the NHL.]
In this version of Two-Line Pass, Richard and I give our early views on Cody Hodgson’s rookie season.
Someone asked me recently what I thought Cody Hodgson’s chances were at winning the Calder Trophy this year. I’m not going to answer that question – I’d like to think it’s obvious. He hasn’t done anything to deserve being in Calder conversation through the quarter-mark of the season. That said – it raised another question for me. A question of our expectation of him.
Getting drafted in the first round comes with a set of expectations. Unless you’re drafting a goalie or a defenseman, you draft a forward for their offensive potential. You draft them for all the things they can do that your 3rd and 4th line players can’t do. When we think of recent first round picks, names like Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jordan Eberle, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares or most recently even, Ryan Nugent Hopkins come to mind. You don’t really think of Cody Hodgson.
When one thinks about a first round draft pick, a weight of expectation comes as an association. Expectation to be the next big thing. The Canucks have done it with previous early picks, we put that pressure on the Sedins. Some of those expectations include clutch goals, blistering fast speed, a deadly accurate wrist shot that could peg an apple on someone’s head the same way Robin Hood could with an arrow. Oh, and a lot of points.
If you look at some of the first rounders listed above, they’ve managed to do that in a relatively short time. Even the most recent Nugent Hopkins is coming off an incredible 5 point night. Why is it other teams can expect their first rounders to bedazzle, awe, and blow out of the water their expectations with highlight reel first goals (see Eberle), quick first milestones, and incredible feats, but we’re expected to settle for mediocre play?
Why do all of the above have highlight reel goals, some with their first career hat tricks, and many with equally incredible feats – but we don’t expect the same of our first round draft pick? When it comes to any other player on the team – Canuck fan impatientness is in a race with the media. Who can hop on a player first? Sure Hodgson was out with an injury, but he’s been back, he had last playoffs and this year I haven’t seen anything particularly exciting.
The biggest thing Hodgson did was score his first goal and it happened to be in a romp over the Phoenix Coyotes. Hodgson put up big OHL numbers, and was a clutch scorer. I’ll be the first to admit that they are different leagues and it’s foolish to think that what happens in one league translates to the other. But as the 10th overall draft pick, I’m wholly underwhelmed by Hodgson.
Erik Karlsson of the Sens who went 15th overall in Hodgson’s year already has an All Star Selection under his belt. Fellow 10th overall pick from 2009 Magnus Paajarvi Svensson has his first hat trick, and Evander Kane’s made him self a mainstay in the NHL. Jeff Skinner went 7th overall in 2010 and has an All Star Game under his belt and a Calder to his name. Claude Giroux went 22nd overall, his play with Philly has been incredible. Logan Couture was a 9th overall pick, his second season was a 32 goal performance, he was named to the NHL All Rookie team and a Calder Finalist.
These are guys are on par with Hodgson’s place in the draft and they’re excelling in the NHL. If we don’t have patience for the performance of our star players like Kesler, Luongo or the Sedins, and we can’t wait for our acquisitions like Booth to make an impact, why do we keep making excuses for Hodgson’s relative lack of impressiveness? What is everyone waiting for? Or rather, is what they’re waiting for actually going to show up?
Ask Mike Gillis about how he patterns the Canucks’ approach to developing prospects and he’ll quickly point to the Detroit Red Wings model. It’s the model where young players don’t get rushed to the NHL, but are ready to make an impact when they do make it. If you look for a common thread among some of the recently, locally-developed talent on the Red Wings roster – guys like Jimmy Howard, Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, for example – you’ll notice that each one honed their skills in the minors for a few years before becoming full-time NHL players.
Unfortunately, this model requires patience, and Canucks fans are notoriously impatient when it comes to dealing with the team’s prospects. In fact, if some of them had their way, the Sedin twins would have been traded for Olli Jokinen a few years ago. Some of those same fans would have gladly taken a 2nd round pick than given Ryan Kesler a $1.9 million contract. And even some would just as sooner write off 2008 top-10 draft pick, Cody Hodgson, as the next Josh Holden.
Hodgson’s short time in Vancouver so far has been a mix of hype and disappointment. He impressed in his first training camp with the Canucks, and after being returned to the OHL’s Brampton Battalion, tore up the league, led Team Canada to the World Junior Championship, and was named the CHL Player of the Year. Not surprisingly, expectations for Hodgson were sky-high. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a back injury – a misdiagnosed one at that – and a broken orbital bone (not at the same time), and he missed most of the next two seasons.
But now, for the first time in two years, Hodgson is completely healthy. And for the first time in his pro career, we’re finally beginning to see some progress in his development.
IMHO, even while the team struggled through the first quarter of the season, Hodgson was one of the Canucks’ more consistent forwards. Due in part to injuries to Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond, AV’s deployed him anywhere from the second line to the fourth line, at center or on the wing, at 5-on-5, 4-on-4 and on the powerplay. Through 20 games, he has 4 goals and 9 points – good for 4th among Canucks forwards despite ranking just 9th in average ice-time – and is on pace for about 15 goals and 35 points this season.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that Hodgson is only 21 years old and that this season will (hopefully) be his first full season in the big leagues. When you look at some of the Canucks’ elite players, his production is actually in line with theirs. The Sedins were 30-point players during their rookie seasons; and in fact, they were 30-point players during their first 3 years in the NHL. Ryan Kesler had 23 points in his first full season with the Canucks, and while he was always good on the defensive side of things, didn’t crack the 30-point plateau until his 4th year in the league. All three worked their way up the Canucks lineup.
I’ll agree that Claude Giroux is lighting it up right now, but he was drafted two years before Hodgson; at 21, Giroux was still transitioning between the AHL and NHL. Ditto Logan Couture, who didn’t break out with 32 goals until last season, four years after he was drafted.
Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Evander Kane, the Oilers trio of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and even Cody’s good friend, Matt Duchene, made immediate impacts on their respective teams, but these guys are more the exception than the rule. For starters, these guys all log (or logged) top-line minutes for rebuilding organizations.
With a couple of Art Ross Trophy winners, a Selke Trophy winner and a couple of 30-goal scorers ahead of him in the Canucks’ lineup, it’s unlikely Hodgson will receive the same sort of minutes. But GMMG is okay with that. As long as Hodgson is improving, the Canucks will be okay with bringing him along slowly. After all, there’s no reason to rush him up the lineup and practicing patience with the Sedins and Kesler eventually paid off. Obviously, the hope is that a similar approach will pay off for Cody as well.